It was the final morning of our pre-symposium sea kayaking trip. We didn’t need to be away at the crack of dawn but we did need to be ready to catch the start of the flood tide to carry us towards Port Welshpool. From there we would be heading towards Wilson’s Promontory and the start of the International Sea Kayaking Educator’s Conference.
It wasn’t too early a start, which was in contrast to the previous morning. The sun had already taken the chill off the air as we headed north. I think that this was the first time that it registered, as we paddled away from Snake Island, that the sun was in the north. Clearly my geography of the Southern Hemisphere left something to be desired.
What was surprising, was for how much of the paddle we were in shallow water, which was quite fortunate as there were quite a few fishing boats heading towards the open water from Port Welshpool. Whalers first used this area in the 1830’s, whilst the town was officially named Port Welshpool in 1952.
We landed in Port Welshpool, and started the unloading of the kayaks. We had been out 4 days and covered just under 30 nautical miles. Not a great distance, but it was through an interesting environment, which also gave us the opportunity to observe some animals, which we would never encounter in the northern hemisphere.
More importantly the four day paddle gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people who would be attending the 2nd International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium at Tidal River in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.
We finally got the opportunity to paddle in flat calm conditions on the third day, the only problem was that we had to get up at 04.00 to do so. The way the tidal streams were working meant that we either started early or waited until the late afternoon. An early morning paddle gave us so many more options.
So at 05.50 we pushed away from the bank into a glorious Australian sunrise. It started off pretty good and just got better and better and for the first time in the trip we had mirror calm conditions and the tidal flow with us. Only just over a knot but that is better than nothing.
As we exited the Swashway Channel we gained our first reasonably good views of the north side of Wilson’s Promontory National Park, where we would be spending time at the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium.
There was a reasonable amount of quite fast boat traffic moving up and down the channel towards the open sea. Fortunately the channel was relatively narrow with quite a few buoys indicating their route. It’s always good to know your buoyage when kayaking on the sea. Crossing the channel at right angles we reduced our exposure to the boats before turning south towards Wilson’s Prom. We were soon paddling alongside rocks and a shoreline that was more than a couple of metres high.
We stopped on a couple of stunning beaches with the opportunity to explore the shoreline or slightly further inland. We were in no real hurry as we waited for slack water in the channel to allow us to cross back to Snake Island, our destination for the day. Also it was only just after 09.00, always the advantage of an early morning paddle.
There was a discussion as to what time we should aim to cross back to Snake Island because of the tidal streams. As a sea kayaker I have never understood why people use different units of measurement in the same conversation. It could go along the lines of;
“We have a wind of between 13 and 15 mph from the south, the tidal stream is running at 3 knots and the distance we have to go is 10 kilometres.”
The potential for errors to creep into people’s calculations is huge. I just don’t understand why people don’t stick with one unit of measurement and if we are operating on the sea it should be the nautical variety. Knots and nautical miles. Information we need about tidal flows is always given in knots so why not stick with that unit. I admit that some people might find it difficult at first but I really think that it is worth the effort.
I know many people will find this strange but a couple of us were really getting quite excited by the prospect of seeing kangaroos. Living on an island where the largest land animal is the rabbit I get easily excited. We had been told that we were likely to see them in the evening but it was still quite a surprise when when 16 of them hopped out the bush. Linked with a few small deer wandering around and it felt like a wildlife bonanza.
One of the problems of jet leg is that sometimes you just can’t sleep, which was the position I found myself in on the second day. Taking advantage of this I got up reasonably early to walk along the spit. We had so painstakingly paddled along the previous day.
It was one of those moments that you truly appreciate. The morning sun rising over a reasonably calm sea to the backdrop of the Australian dawn chorus. All too soon it was time to head back, as the rest of the camp was starting to stir.
Whilst on trips, individuals often develop routines, especially around the campsite. Some people are unable to sit still and have to get involved with every aspect of the food preparation, often to the frustration of the person who is actually cooking the meal. I am more than willing to allow people to get on a cook the evening meal, they normally do a much better job than I do but I am happy to prepare breakfast everyday, which was the position I found myself in that morning.
I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead and to have the opportunity to chat to people. In contrast to the evenings when most people are around the kitchen area, in the morning people usually arrive individually meaning that the experience is much more personal. So that is one of the reasons I found myself preparing porridge on the south side of Sunday Island.
We were away reasonably promptly but the sea, which had been so calm on my dawn walk was starting to reflect changes in the weather. The forecast had confidently predicted reasonably light winds. They just didn’t seem to be able to get it right though, the days we were on the water.
Almost as soon as we headed along the channel the wind picked up and it was either a headwind or on our beam. This had resulted in some interesting discussions about packing the kayaks. Distributing the weight depending upon the direction of the wind, in effect trimming the kayak to suit the conditions. In reality how often does the wind remain the same all day? I always recommend packing the same kit in the same place in the kayak so when you arrive on the beach and conditions are far from ideal it’s a matter of being able to go to the right dry bags straight away.
Crossing over the channel to Snake Island the wind increased even further and it was clear we were falling behind the proposed schedule. We stopped for lunch on a possible campsite, The Gulf, as we considered the options. Two further campsites we possible and we sensibly selected the closer of the two.
We arrived at Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park Just as the tide started to drop and managed to avoid the worst of the carry through the thick oozing mud. Tents were soon up and meal preparation underway. It hadn’t been a long paddle but it hadn’t been straightforward either. The wind proving a pretty constant adversary.
Paddling in this area is in complete contrast to the waters at home. The islands are low lying without any obvious physical features, resulting in quite challenging navigation. If you didn’t remain focused on your chart then establishing your location could be an issue.
I have to admit that I had never been that attracted by the idea of a visit to Australia. This was largely a feeling based on ignorance as opposed to a decision based on facts. Therefore, when I saw the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium advertised, I though this might just be the catalyst I needed to head towards the southern hemisphere.
What appealed about the Symposium and helped justify the hours spent on the aircraft reaching Melbourne, was the 4 day pre-symposium paddle. So with a degree of enthusiasm and some slight trepidation I signed up and booked my flights.
This was the story as to how I found myself standing outside the railway station at 06.00 on a cold Thursday morning in Frankston, to the south east of Melbourne. It is an interesting experience trying to identify other sea kayakers amongst the early morning commuters. The North Face bags and beards were a bit of a give away with the males!
So 6 prospective kayakers from 4 different countries found ourselves heading towards Port Albert. It was here that we met the other people who had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 4 day paddle. In total there were about 20 of us, with a third from the UK, which I have to admit I found a bit surprising.
As with all trips some people were quicker than others at getting ready for departure, but straight after lunch we were ready to go. The big question was “Who had turned on the fan?” The early morning calm had been replaced by an entertaining breeze, which was significantly higher than forecast. Sitting still was not an option.
We fought our way west and south with a speed over the ground that most of the time was well below 2 knots. The wind was certainly taking its toll and producing a very low fun factor. Eventually after just over 5 nautical miles we decided to call it a day, the next possible camp site was quite some way off and so it was with some relief that we lifted the kayaks above the high water mark.
Not a glorious start to my Australian sea kayaking career but it was certainly an interseting experience and the relatively early finish allowed plenty of time to get to know the other people in the group.
What was even better was that the wind was due to drop off over night so as I dropped asleep on my first night in the Australian bush all my thoughts were positive.
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.
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.
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.
On Thursday morning we received a telephone call from Gordon Brown with the very sad news of the passing of Duncan Winning. Duncan was an immensely influential figure in the world of sea kayaking but more importantly he was an incredibly generous individual and thoroughly decent person.
I first met Duncan in May 1992, when he attended the first Jersey Sea Kayaking Symposium, and was one of only two people from off the island who attended every one. Always willing to give his time and energy to ensuring that the event was a success.
Douglas Wilcox has written eloquently about Duncan and some of their shared experiences on his blog and I would recommend that you read his post.
There is very little that I could add except to mention two things, firstly Duncan did achieve some form of local fame in 1999, when he was able to paddle through the centre of his home town of Largs, due to flooding. Secondly in 1998 at the Jersey Symposium he built a junior sea kayak from wood, the Jersey Junior, over the course of 3 days. A beautiful kayak, which is still treasured by my family.
I last saw Duncan in January when Nicky and myself called in to see Duncan and went out for lunch at the local restaurant. Although he was quite at times the passion that he had for kayaking still shone through with that glint in his eye.
After lunch we sat looking across to Cumbrae, talking about the great times we had on the island in the 1990’s at the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposiums. Duncan said that he wouldn’t be able to attend the event this year but we did make tentative arrangements to call in and see whilst traveling to the event from Jersey, sadly that is not to be.
I feel fortunate to have known Duncan Winning for over 25 years, spending many happy days on the water with him both in Jersey and Scotland. He will be sadly missed, not just by his family but by the wider kayaking community.
A few years ago one of our nephews and a niece weren’t sure what to do at Christmas so we invited them to join us in Jersey. On Christmas Eve we have been to the Corbiere Phare for lunch for years. The views from the restaurant across to Corbiere Lighthouse are truly spectacular although they are virtually a daily view for us. For people used to living in London and Barcelona, they are something quite out of the ordinary.
Perhaps inspired by the view or the exciting talk of potential activities in Jersey, we were off to St Brelade’s straight after the meal to go and jump off the pier. We did wear wet suits, that afternoon, to participate in this traditional Jersey activity.
Christmas Day has, for over 40 years, been marked by the Jersey Canoe Club, with an 11.00 o’clock swim in the sea, wet suits not allowed. Toby and Katie joined the throng of members who jumped in the sea at St Catherine’s on Christmas morning. Boxing Day has for years seen the Club members meet at Ouaisne, for a short paddle, a couple of hours at the most before retiring for festive drinks.
After the excitement of the previous 2 days Toby was encouraged to join us for a paddle and in reality he did pretty well. It just so happened that the Club had a close relationship with the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club, based at Shadwell Basin, in the east of London, and quite conveniently Toby lived just up the road. The rest as they say is history.
Since that day kayaking has been a large part of Toby’s life, he has paddled all over the UK, has been to Greenland with us and this summer is returning to lead his own group in Disko Bay. The really great news though is that last Friday it was announced that he has received a Winston Churchill Fellowship for his project “Moderate Becoming Good Later.”
Over the years Toby has faced his own personal challenges, which he has met with a positive approach to life. This summer he embarks on the challenge to kayak in all the Shipping Forecast areas, which are on the forecast read out on the BBC Radio 4. For many people in Britain the Shipping Forecast forms part of our lives, even if we are not out on the high seas. Despite all of the advances in how we can access up to date and accurate weather information the BBC still broadcast 4 times a day the Shipping Forecast.
How many of us have lay in our tents, as the fabric flapped and the rain beat down, whilst we turned the dial to LW, in the hope of a positive Forecast allowing us the opportunity to paddle in the morning?
Toby has launched his blog “Moderate Becoming Good Later“, I am sure most of you are aware of why he selected that title but if not then tune into Radio 4 and all will be revealed.
What had been flat calm water, with not a ripple in sight, the night before was a bit different when we woke up. After 10 days of constant north easterly or easterly winds we woke to a light north westerly breeze. Not enough to put us off the paddle to Dangriga, just an inconvenience.
The tent was dropped and the rest of the equipment packed away, just after 06.00. There were some big clouds around, which normally introduce significant increases in wind speed when they pass by overhead. We monitored their direction of travel and decided that they were probably going to miss us.
At 06.50 we pushed away from the shore and settled into a steady rhythm, despite the headwind, according to the GPS, our speed over the ground was in the region of 3.5 knots, which we were pretty pleased with. Within 15 minutes though the speed had dropped to 2.5 knots and frequently less and it was to remain like that for the next 3 hours.
Although we were on spring tides, the tidal range on the day was only 0.7 feet, not that great. We actually felt that the movement of water was probably an ocean current, driven by the frequent north easterly trade winds. Whatever the cause it was a bit of inconvenience for us, as we had an 8 mile crossing to complete. As soon as we stopped paddling the track on the GPS showed that we were being pushed south at nearly 1.5 knots, rather frustrating when we were heading north.
In addition we had to continually keep an eye on the weather, there were some large cells around but all missed us by quite some distance, so at least that was something we didn’t need to worry unnecessarily about.
Gradually the buildings in Dangriga started to take shape, the sports hall to the south of the town , was the first which was clearly identified. The radio towers were perfect for leading the way back to the town.
After 3 hours 15 minutes the bows of the kayaks ran up onto the beach in front of the Islands Expedition building in Dangriga. The conclusion of some really enjoyable sea kayaking through an eco system we have rarely been exposed to. This was not wilderness kayaking, it requires planning and the willingness to camp in specific locations but for those paddlers who are interested in bird life and snorkelling Belize is a destination well worth considering.