Here is another selection of old pictures, illustrating some of the places that we have been paddling over the years. It feels like it is time to pay a visit to some of these places again, its been nearly 40 years since I paddled some of these trips.
We have just a lovely couple of days, (not weather wise) in Brecon at the 60th birthday party of somebody I paddled with in Svalbard, way back in 1983. We spent two months kayaking the west coast of Spitsbergen, a more detailed account of which is available here.
As far as we are aware we were possibly the first sea kayaking expedition that used dry suits whilst on the water. It really was a time of discovery, the rumour was that you would be inverted and drown if you had to capsize your kayak whilst wearing a dry suit. There is a brief description of our experiments and how fortunate I was to survive!
Dave has reached to grand old age of 60 and so on Saturday, Phil, Pete, Dave and myself were together for possibly the first time in 30 years. The last time we could remember all being together was at Dave’s wedding in 1988.
Spending two months together kayaking in the Arctic can pose significant challenges to relationships but 35 years on ours seem to have survived and although we don’t see each other that often, it is amazing how comfortable we are in each others company. The shared experiences of 35 years ago continue to bind us together into a tight knit group.
If you are planning a kayaking trip this summer try to reflect on what impact the journey will have on your relationships and hopefully in 35 years time you will still experience the same empathy between the members of the group. The success of sea kayaking trips can be measured in so many more ways than nautical miles paddled.
On a slightly different note one thing I have discovered this week, due to the amount of time I have spent inside, is Paddling Adventures Radio. They have over 100 podcasts, which are perfect listening when you are in the bath. Sean Rowley and Derek Sprecht are the two hosts, who talk about a range of paddling related activities and all in very relaxed style. It is recommended listening. The podcasts could be perfect for when you are in the gym. Give it a listening and sea what you think.
Whilst looking through thousands of slides last week, as I was trying to sort out a talk for a 60th birthday celebration, I came across a number of slides which brought back some great sea kayaking memories of the last 30 plus years.
Also makes me think about how sea kayaking images have been lost as we have all made the switch to digital. In an earlier post I looked at a few photographs of sea kayaking in the early days of the Jersey Canoe Club.
One thing which we often talk about when out sea kayaking is what are the 5 best paddles that you have ever done. I think that every time I consider, which are my favourites I come up with slightly different ones although there are often a couple of the old favourites.
So when you are having lunch on a rock somewhere, sitting around the camp fire on a remote island or just having a pint in your favourite pub why not give it some thought and see what you come up with. What’s great about this is that there are no rules, apart from the fact that the paddles have to be on the tidal waters and ideally suitable as a day trip.
Here are my favourite 5 for today:
So that’s my five for today but I think that I have already got it wrong. What about Polyaegos and Milos, Sark, Ile de Brehat or even the south west corner of Jersey. This can lead to endless hours of discussion amongst sea kayakers about “what are your 5 best paddles”?
In 1975 Colin Mortlock led a six man expedition along the arctic coast of Norway, covering over 500 miles from Bodo to Nortdkapp and slightly beyond. Many people see this as the first modern style sea kayaking expedition, with similarities to the mountaineering developments which were taking place in the Himalaya’s. There were significant developments in terms of equipment, not least the Nordkapp sea kayak designed by Frank Goodman but I also believe that the Wild Water 5 pocket buoyancy aid which was standard equipment for sea kayakers for years had its origin in this expedition. It was seen as such a ground breaking trip that it was serialized in the Sunday Telegraph magazine.
I was fortunate that 11 years later in 1986 I was able to follow part of their route, from Tromso as far as Honnigsvag, a small town just past Nordkapp. In contrast to the unsettled weather experienced by Colin Mortlock and his fellow paddlers, we were really fortunate. For 26 days out of 28 we had light winds, higher than average temperatures and long hours of sunshine. Evenings were frequently spent sitting around in t-shirts although we were quite a way north of the Arctic Circle.
As we passed under the cliffs of Nordkapp (307 metres or 1,007 feet) in flat calm conditions it was hard not to think of the sailors who had traveled these waters as part of the Arctic Convoys which were heading too and from the northern ports in the former Soviet Union during the Second World War.This was a memorable trip with other members of the Jersey Canoe Club, we were fortunate with the weather, which we took full advantage of.
Next summer we are returning to northern Norway to paddle in the Lofotens, a stunning sea kayaking destination, which I have only ever seen before from an aircraft whilst heading further north. It promises to be a good summer.
How far can you see whilst sitting in your kayak? Knowing how far away you can see an object whilst paddling is a useful technique and a valuable aid to navigation. As a simple rule the higher up you are the further you can see. Standing on top of the Empire State Building, with good visibility it is amazing how far away the horizon is. Also the taller the object you are looking at the further away that it can be seen.
As paddlers it is not that easy to raise our eye level, our eyes are generally just less than 1 metre above sea level. At times in rough weather or when there is a swell running it is possible to take advantage of the extra elevation that results from being on top of the swell to increase how far we can actually see. Due to the movement up and down of the kayak, on the water, the distance off an object which is obtained should be seen as an approximation.
Clearly a further problem is caused by the rise and fall of the tide, which may well be significant in certain areas. For example on a chart a lighthouse’s charted height is given above MHWS. In certain areas of the world with a large tidal range the height above water of the light may vary by more than 10 metres, considerably affecting the distance away that the light may be seen from. If you want to be really accurate it is necessary to add the estimated height that the tide is below MHWS to the height of the land or the light before referring to the table.
An example of the effect of this from a trip to the Ecrehous, on a large spring tide, is as follows:
Maitre Ile at the Ecrehous has a height of 8 metres at MHWS, which in Jersey is 11.1 metres, but the tide on Saturday was 11.8 metres, it was bigger than a mean spring. This meant that at high water the maximum height of Maitre Ile was not 8 metres but 7.3 metres.
When the eye of the observer is 1 metre above water level an object 8 metres high is visible from 7.8 nm away but when the height of the object drops to 7 metres it is not visible until you are within 7.4 nm. When we left La Rocque, Maitre Ile was 8.3 nm away. This meant that even in excellent visibility we would have not been able to see our destination when we left.
On a spring tide when the water level may drop by as much as 11 metres the highest point on Maitre Ile is now 19 metres above the water level. This means that the island is now visible from 10.9 miles away for a paddler whose eye is 1 metre above the water.
The lesson is that objects will be visible from much further away when you approach them at low water, particularly in an area with a large tidal range, such as the Channel Islands.
The table below shows the distance at which, an item becomes visible depending upon its height above water. This is based upon the observers eye being 1 metre above the level of the water.
Clearly there are number of variables which impact upon the accuracy of the above table such as sea state, the exact height of the paddlers eye above sea level and the height of the tide but it is a useful tool in helping the sea paddler to locate their position. For example 12 nautical miles to the south of my nearest beach is the superb reef of the Minquiers. The tallest rock on the northern edge is only 3 metres high, which according to the table means that they only become visible when they are 5.5 nautical miles away. Therefore there is no point in even starting to look for the reef until you have paddled for over 6 nautical miles or have been underway for over an hour and a half.
Using this technique as a way of assisting navigation is particularly satisfying but it is a method which is gradually slipping into obscurity. Today the vast majority of us simply turn to the switch on the GPS to receive far more accurate information about our position than we could ever obtain by using the above method. That said there is a degree of satisfaction from being able to navigate using the more traditional methods and you never know if the batteries are going to run out!
I always think that there is something special about urban kayaking and over the years I have been fortunate to dip my paddles in the waters of some of the worlds great cities.My first was probably Venice in 1972 when I paddled an early version of a Gaybo sea kayak. I have been struggling to remember the model but it’s name escapes me. In those days kayaks in the waters of Venice were an infrequent sight, so I generated a fair bit of interest.
Since then I have enjoyed the urban landscapes of cities such London, Paris, New York, Valletta and Seattle to name a few. Along the way I have paddled through towns and cities which may not necessarily have the same worldwide appeal but have their own unique charm. This includes such fascinating destinations as Leicester, Wolverhampton, Milton Keynes, to name just three. What is great about paddling through towns such as these you gain a totally different perspective of the urban environment.
This week we were fortunate to be able to paddle around the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. In terms of population it is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands so there was no doubt that we would be experiencing urban kayaking! There was plenty to see including football stadiums, prisons, old fortifications and possibly the most interesting from a sea kayakers point of view part of the University.
Christophorus Henricus Diedericus Buys Ballot attended Utrecht University before going on to become a Professor in Mathematics and Physics. He is best known though for his achievements in meteorology, with Buys Ballots Law named after him. It states that if a person in the northern hemisphere stands with their back to the wind the low pressure is to their left and high pressure to the right. Pretty much essential knowledge for anybody who wants to work as a sea kayak leader or guide.
Who says that Urban Kayaking has to be boring? There is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and perfect when the wind is too strong to be on the open sea.
Whilst searching through my kayaking literature I came across my copy of “Life” magazine, which was published on 22nd July 1957. It recounts the story of Hans Lindemann, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean, from east to west, in a kayak in 1956. I had managed to find a copy a few years ago through the wonders of eBay. A seller in Miami just happened to be selling something which I had been trying to find for years.
Hans Lindemann left Las Palmas in the Canary Islands on the 20th October 1956, in his folding kayak, Tangaroa, eventually making landfall 72 days later on St Martin, in the Caribbean.
During the crossing there were numerous incidents, a chance meeting with a cargo ship half way across the Atlantic, capsizing and clinging to the upturned hull throughout the night, another capsize in daylight, hitting a shark with his paddle etc all while his body was fueled with tins of condensed milk and beer.
It really is one of the most significant sea kayaking trips of all time, if you haven’t managed to find a copy of Life Magazine then search out a copy of “Alone at Sea” which describes the crossing in far more detail. At the end of the book though I was left wondering “why on earth would you do it?”
I had heard about Engelandvaarders, a number of years ago. Mainly men but some women who escaped from the German occupied Netherlands to Britain. Many took the dangerous overland routes but a smaller number risked their lives crossing the North Sea in a variety of small craft. Earlier this year I heard that an Engelandvaarders Museum had been opened in 2015, so whilst on a visit to my daughter in Amsterdam it was planned that we should go to Noordwijk, to visit the museum.
The section that most interested me, the most, was the story of those men who attempted to paddle across the North Sea in canoes. As far as is known 38 men attempted the journey to the English coast in folding canoes (kayaks). Unfortunately only 8 people made it to the English coast, and of these only 3 survived the Second World War.
The stories of some of the escapees are remarkable, Rudi van Daalen Wetters and Jaap vanHamel, were at sea for 5 days and nights before they were picked up by an Australian ship. When rescued they were unable to stand. On the 20th June 1941, Robbie Cohen and Koen de Longh left the beach in Katwijk and 50 hours later landed on the beach in England. Both amazing feats of survival. Sadly many of the others were not successful.
In 2011 Dutch marines Chiel van Bakel and Ben Stoel and English paddlers Alec Greenwell, Ed Cooper, Harry Franks and Olly Hicks recreated the crossing completed by the brothers, Han and Willem Peteri on the 19th September 1941, although I would assume that their navigation equipment was slightly more sophisticated than a school atlas and a watch. The Peteri brothers took two days to cross from Katwijk to Sizewell in Suffolk.
As paddlers we are possibly in a reasonable position to understand the fears and concerns of those young men as they slipped quietly away from the Dutch coast, under the cover of darkness. Their future far from certain but prepared to chance their lives on the hostile waters of the North Sea, rather than remain in their occupied homeland.
If you are in the area then I would recommend a visit to this small but fascinating museum.
Whilst looking through some of my old slides I came across this one, which represents an interesting time in the evolution of modern kayak equipment, in particular dry suits.
It was taken in November 1982 on the beach at Greve de Lecq in Jersey. It was an unusually cold day, note the snow on the front of the kayak. I am the one in the paddling equipment, if you weren’t sure.
Wind surfing was becoming popular and a number of the participants were wearing this new clothing, a dry suit, prior to this evolution the dry suits were very basic items of equipment. We were fortunate enough to be lent a dry suit to try out.
One of the main concerns, which was doing the round of the paddling community was that in the event of a capsize, if the dry suit hadn’t been vented properly it was likely that the feet would fill with air and the kayaker would be suspended upside down. My role, no pun intended, in this exercise was to paddle offshore, do a couple of rolls before capsizing and hopefully swimming ashore with my head above water.
As I am writing this 35 years later it is clear that being suspended upside down with your feet full of air was an urban myth. So based on this rather unscientific experiment we ordered 6 dry suits and 7 months later flew out to Spitsbergen for a 2 month trip. As far as I am aware we were one of the first sea kayaking trips to use the modern dry suit, an item of equipment, which today is virtually essential for any self respecting sea kayaker.