Sabena – a Belgian airline and kayaking

I have recently come across this advert for SABENA, the Begian airline that went bankrupt in 2001.  It was in an old copy of a National Geographic magazine, dating from the 1960’s I think.
The paddles, that they are using are particularly impressive, as is the attention to safety, not a buoyancy aid in sight.
It made me wonder, in addition to SABENA, what other companies have used kayaking in their attempt to sell a product.  Ed Gillet is well known as the person who kayaked from California to Hawaii, over 64 days in 1987.  It is reckoned to be one of the greatest achievements in modern sea kayaking.  Have a look at Canoe&Kayak Magazine for more details about this significant crossing.  I was in his shop, near San Diego, in 1999, when I saw an advert on the wall from Continental Airlines, which made reference to his paddle to Hawaii.  I can’t remember the exact words but it was along the lines that it was easier to fly to Hawaii than to paddle there
More recently McDonalds have been showing an advert of a kayaker losing his paddle and being carried down an artificial slalom course in a rather relaxed style.
As far as I can remember the first chocolate bar in the United Kingdom, which was produced in a waterproof wrapper was the Twix.  This transformed what we ate on the water, it was suddenly possible to keep a chocolate bar in your buoyancy aid pocket without fear of it disintegrating.  Interestingly the TV advert, which promoted the new chocolate bar, featured a shot of a car driving onto a ferry with a couple of sea kayaks on the roof.  It would be nice to think that it was planned but I imagine that it was just a coincidence.

Mauritius – kayaking in the Indian Ocean

2017 has seen us undertake some significant warm weather kayaking but perhaps none as unusual as Mauritius.   A winter holiday evolved into some great sea kayaking as well as running some British Canoeing courses.
A quick e mail to Patrick Haberland at Yemaya Adventures to try and arrange a day’s paddling, gradually evolved into something else.  The initial offering of a sit on top tour through mangrove swamps was replaced by the opportunity to paddle in sea kayaks out to Ile de la Passe, off the east coast of Mauritius, in exchange for some days of training.
This was a perfect combination and allowed us to see some areas of Mauritius, which we might have missed if we hadn’t managed to get out on the water.
Our first experience of paddling in Mauritius was when we headed out from near Preskil Beach Resort on the east coast of the island.  We passed close to Ile aux Aigrettes.  This is a stunning nature reserve with close links to Jersey Zoo, so we had more than a passing interest in the island.  Some of the species on the island have been part of a captive breeding programme so it felt a real privilege to see a Pink Pigeon in the wild as opposed to in Jersey.

Mauritius
Pink Pigeon on Ile aux Aigrettes, off Mauritius.
Mauritius
Crossing Mahebourg Bay on the east coast of Mauritius, on the way to the island of Ile de la Passe.

We paddled across Mahebourg Bay towards Ile de la Passe.  This was an area, which originally had been settled by the Dutch but was settled by the French in the early 18th century.  We were headed towards Ile de la Passe, with its military fortifications dating from the 18th century onwards.
On the 20th August 1810, at the Battle of Grand Port, the French inflicted their greatest naval defeat on the British, a victory which is commemorated on the Arc de Triumph.  The fortifications on Ile de la Passe were enlarged by the British during the 19th century and again during the Second World War, when Mauritius, despite its isolation was dragged into the conflict.
Against this rich historical background was some delightful sea kayaking.  To the east the the southern Indian Ocean was releasing its energy on the reef, which fringes the east coast of Mauritius.  Within the reef the water was relatively calm and in areas very shallow.  We landed on Ile de la Passe before heading north to Ile aux Fouquets or ile au Phare, with its British built lighthouse, which has sadly fallen into disrepair.  This was a completely different marine environment, to which we were used to paddling in but it was really memorable.

Mauritius
Landing on the western side of Ile de la Passe provides shelter from the swell.
Mauritius
Initials and date carved on one of the buildings in 1752. Most of the graffiti carved on the buildings is from much later.
Mauritius
Navigating on the outside of the swell, this small craft was entering the sheltered waters of Mahebourg Bay, through the narrow channel to the south of the island
Mauritius
Looking north from Ile de la Passe towards Ile aux Vacoas and Ile aux Fouquets with its ruined lighthouse.
Mauritius
Ile aux Fouquets’ also known as Ile au Phare. The lighthouse was built by the British in 1864. It has now fallen into disuse.

Salina – sea kayaking in the Aeolian Islands

Salina is the final island of our Aeolian Islands adventure. The crossing from Lipari to Salina is only a couple of miles but it is across waters busy with commercial traffic so it is important to be aware of the passage of the ferries and their intended routes.  They are fast and frequent so always be aware when crossing possible routes, if in doubt stop and allow them to pass.  We did have relatively close encounters with a couple of ferries on our crossing but the main distraction were the dolphins heading south.   As a group stay close together, it is easier for you to be seen.
We headed up the west coast in virtually perfect conditions, warm October sunshine and virtually no wind.  Stopping for an early lunch on the beach at Rinella, we took advantage of the warm water for a pre-lunch swim.  What was surprising was just how many ferries entered the harbour, for such a small town.  In little more than an hour this small village saw more ferries visit than Jersey in a whole day.

Salina
Approaching Rinella.with the dramatic cone of Monte dei Porri rising behind, rising up to 860 metres
Salina
Kayaks on the beach at Rinella. A lovely village for lunch and a swim.

As we headed up the north west coast of the island we witnessed one of the most memorable bird sights I have seen in a long time.   Numerous Eleonora’s Falcons were flying along the towering cliffs.  At times we reckoned that there were up to 30 birds flying overhead, and this was a spectacle that lasted for several miles.  It was impossible, therefore, to work out just how many of these amazing birds we saw.
The opportunity to watch Eleonora’s Falcons is one of the real pleasures of kayaking around some Mediterranean islands.  Nesting on sea cliffs they delay their breeding until the autumn so that they are able to take advantage of the southerly autumn migration.  Catching the smaller migrating birds to feed to their young.  Eleonora’s Falcons, themselves, then migrate heading across Africa to Madagascar for the winter. Superb fliers, it is always a thrill to see them cruising along the sea cliffs and this day was without doubt the best display I have ever seen.

Salina
The slopes rose steeply out of the sea for hundreds of metres. Above were numerous Eleonora’s Falcons.
Salin
The west and north coasts of Salina have some dramatic coastal scenery, some of which are only accessible by kayak.

This was probably the hottest day we spent on the water, whilst in the Aeolian Islands and at times it was refreshing to paddle underneath the cliffs, in search of shade.  The paddle around Salina from Lipari also turned into our longest distance, with 17 nautical miles covered. Our destination for the day was the main port on the island, at Santa Marina, as we had a ferry to catch.
Landing on the beach, just north of the harbour, on the east coast of Salina, we could see that we were less than 100 metres from the ferry ramp.  A relatively straightforward carry, as we waited for the car ferry, which was going to take us to Stromboli.  A relaxing beer and snack were enjoyed, whilst watching over the kayaks.  As the ferry approached, it was the large ferry which operates the overnight service to Naples, we moved a couple of the kayaks close to the ferry ramp.  My Italian is almost non-existent, but I eventually worked out from some passerby that the ferry was arriving on a different ramp to the one we were standing on.
What followed was the most exhausting 15 minutes of the whole trip, as we had to carry 9 fully loaded kayaks, 8 singles and a double, several hundred metres through the crowds on the waterfront.  Alex, in his usual style was not optimistic about making the ferry, Janet was saying that she would stand on the ramp and I was convinced that we would make it, but only just.  As it turned out we had plenty of time but it was 10 very sweaty kayakers who eventually settled down in the bar, for the 3 hour crossing to Stromboli.  As we sipped our drinks and tried to get our heart rates back to normal we were blissfully unaware that the following day we were going to experience some of the most dramatic sea kayaking of our lives.

Salina
Finally on the ferry. Stromboli in the distance with Panerea in the foreground.

Stromboli

The volcanic cone, of Stromboli, rising from the sea floor of the Mediterranean, dominates many of the seascapes of the Aeolian Islands. It is the volcano of children’s picture books.  We approached the island on the car ferry from Salina, calling at the small village of Ginsotra before carrying on to the main settlement at San Vincenzo. Today’s population of about 500 is significantly lower than the several thousand people who lived on the island at the end of the 19th century.
After an early breakfast, and a quick glance at the warning signs regarding tsunamis we headed around the island in a clockwise direction.  Agnes, our guide and friend from Planete Kayak, knows the area well and proved to be an ideal leader, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for the area.

Stromboli
When you see signs like this you know that you are in an earthquake prone area.
Stromboli
Sorting equipment on the beach on Stromboli, whilst the volcano towers above.
Stromboli
Ash flows indicate the continued active nature of the volcano.

Onto the west coast we reached the small village of Ginostra.  About 40 people live year round in this small village with the only reasonable means of access being by boat.  The small harbour is supposed to be one of the smallest in the world although a larger one for the ferries was constructed in 2004.

Stromboli
Ginostra harbour, reputed to be one of the smallest in the world.
Stromboli
A solar powered boat winch in the small habour at Gionstra.  Solar power is the only source of electricity in this small, isolated village.

Leaving the harbour we turned north and approached one of the most amazing physical spectacles I have seen anywhere.

Stromboli
Sciara del Fuoco, a slope of ash and lava, rising nearly 900 metres from the sea. Although the sun was really in completely the wrong place to take reasonable photographs you couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the slope.
Stromboli.
Fairly recent lava flows at the northern end of Sciara del Fuoco

We continued our circumnavigation of the Island, landing back at the harbour, prior to catching the early morning car ferry back to Vulcano.  What is certain is that Stromboli is one of the most dramatic places that I have ever paddled and feel certain that I will return at some point in the future.

Stromboli
Leaving Stromboli on the ferry for Vulcano. We hastily left the ferry on Lipari, when the winds prevented the ferry docking on Volcano.

Lipari East Coast – Italian Sea Kayaking

Our second day on Lipari, started with a paddle north to beach at Porticello.  On the way we passed the significant remnants of the pumice quarrying industry, which must have had a significant impact on the economy of the island when they closed.  Their closure was linked to the Aeolian Islands being granted World Heritage Site status.

Lipari
Heading north along the east coast of Lipari, with the distinctive cone of Stromboli in the distance.
Lipari
The old workings, part of the huge pumice quarries, which dominate the north east corner of the island.
Lipari
Kayaks on the beach at Porticello, close to the abandoned workings of the pumice quarry.

The afternoon was spent climbing to the summit of Monte Pilato, which gave superb views across the other islands of the archipelago.  In addition it gave us our first views of Etna, which had remained shrouded in cloud since we arrived on the islands.

Lipari
Just below the summit of Monte Pilato. From the top there were exceptional views in all directions.

The following day we headed south in an increasingly strong westerly wind but were able to gain shelter from the high land.  Amazingly just as we were about to cross the harbour at Lipari Town, we were stopped by the Coast Guard and told that we couldn’t cross the harbour.  We would have to go around the west of the Island.  This was a 13 nautical mile detour along the base of high cliffs, most of which would have been exposed to an onshore force 5 wind.  All we wanted to do was paddle 200 metres across the bay.
We explained that going all the way round to the west wasn’t an option but the Coast Guard remained adamant that we couldn’t cross the harbour.  We remained adamant that his detour wasn’t an option.  Eventually he agreed that we could cross the harbour but had to mover further offshore. Bizarrely into stronger winds and with greater exposure to the path of the fast ferries.  We did have to question his judgement as a supposed professional mariner.

Lipari
Paddling past the citadel of Lipari town, towards the end of our enforced detour.
Lipari
Evaluating the sea conditions close to Punta del Crapazza prior to crossing into Vulcano.
Lipari
One of the numerous fast ferries which run between the islands and Sicily.  It is vital to keep an eye open for such craft and to anticipate their potential route.  Kayak defensively.

Our final short crossing to Vulcano proved to be reasonably entertaining.  The westerly wind was pushing a reasonable sea through the gap between the islands.  It provided the opportunity for a bit of surfing as our course turned parallel to the coast.  All that remained was the final short paddle back to Sicily in Kayak to return our kayaks.

Lipari (part1) – Italian Sea Kayaking

From Vulcano we crossed the narrow channel to Lipari, our plan was to paddle north along the west coast and return south down the east coast later in the week. It seemed like a good plan, which worked, although not in the way that we intended as it actually involved rapid disembarkation from a car ferry.
The channel across from Vulcano is only a few hundred metres wide but does require a degree of caution when crossing.  It is regularly used by the high speed ferries which connect the various islands in the group. Both times we crossed we encountered ferries which necessitated in changes in direction. Approaching the south west corner of the island is like paddling onto the pages of a geography textbook.  Caves, arches and stacks all positioned in the order, which is depicted in the diagrams shown in geography books.

Lipari
Approaching the south west corner of Lipari, with its dramatic collection of caves, arches and stacks.
Lipari
Paddling through the arch which splits the large stack, Pietralunga, of the south west corner of the island.

There is one large beach on the west coast of the island, Spiaggia Valle Muria, with a small bar/cafe in a cave, which appears to have rather erratic opening times.  The remainder of the coast is a playground for the sea kayaker.   There were numerous geographical features waiting to be explored, which we took full advantage of, whilst en route to Salinas.
The east coast of Lipari, wasn’t necessarily on our agenda but a forecast of particularly strong winds encouraged us to book the ferry from Stromboli back to Vulcano.  Unfortunately the wind was stronger than forecast, which prevented the ferry docking at Vulcano.  Suddenly we were forced to abandon ship in Lipari Town.

Lipari
Unable to continue to Vulcano, on the ferry, because of the strength of the wind. We suddenly found ourselves having to make alternative plans on the harbour side.
Lipari
Looking south from the walls of the citadel.  We were to enjoy a cold beer on the harbour side later.

Our unexpected arrival allowed us plenty of time to explore Lipari Town. It is the largest settlement in the Aeolian Islands.  We were able to settle into our guest house, the Villa Rosa, a great find right on the waterfront.  The citadel proved to be an essential visit.  Walking around the narrow lanes and courtyards it was hard to imagine that Mussolini used the area to contain political prisoners.
The forecast for the following day was for lighter winds so we anticipated being able to paddle the east coast before crossing to Vulcano.

Vulcano – first experience of Aeolian Islands

Arriving on the ferry, at Vulcano, the first thing to strike you is the sulphurous smell, indicating that you have arrived on a volcanic island. The smoking crater, rising above Porto di Levante provides further evidence of geological activity in the area. The ancient Romans believed that the volcano was the chimney of the fire god, Vulcan.
The crater rises to a height of 391 metres and a walk around its rim should be on the tick list of anybody visiting the island, which is the closest of the Aeolian Islands, to mainland Sicily. Although I am fascinated by physical geography, the reason for our visit was to rent kayaks from Sicily in Kayak at the start of a 7 day paddle around the islands. As we disembarked the owner Eugenio was waiting with his distinctive yellow mini bus to transport us round the start of our journey, just in front of his premises.
After the usual delay as equipment was sorted, kayaks packed and provisions purchased we were were soon heading south along the east coast of the island.  Whilst packing we became aware of one of the more intrusive aspects of life on Vulcano, mosquitoes.  Some of the group reacting more than others, but everybody was finding them surprisingly active, if visiting be prepared.

Vulcano
Paddling through an arch on the east coast of Vulcano. Stromboli is just discernible in the distance.
Vulcano
The statue of the Little Mermaid, close to Punta Roia on the east coast.

The slopes drop steeply into the Mediterranean Sea, although in places there appeared to be signs of some old terracing.  Ahead we could see the north coast of Sicily but what was really attracting our attention was the view towards the other islands, particularly Stromboli with a plume of gases rising steadily from its summit.  There is virtually no access to the east coast, with the first easy landing being Spiaggia Cannitello, on the south coast.  There was a bar, restaurant, sun beds etc but absolutely no sign of human activity.

Vulcano
The old lighthouse, just to the west of Gelso on the south coast.

The were a few people fishing off the jetty at the small port of Gelso then we were on our own again along the west coast of the island.  There are a number of amazing caves along this stretch of coast, including the Grotta del Cavallo, which is big enough to accommodate tourist boats.  As kayakers we will probably want to explore some of the smaller caves, which are just waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive paddlers.

Vulcano
On the west coast of the island there are some spectacular caves waiting to be explored.
Vulcano
West coast paddling scenery.
Vulcano
The black sand of the Spiaggia Sabina Nera, just to the west of the town.

Just before reaching Vulcanello are the black sands of Spiaggia Sabina Nera, its probably easy to identify because of the number of yachts at anchor in the bay.  There is a bar on the beach but it is a relatively short walk across the isthmus to the port area where there are more options for food and drink.  The isthmus was created in 1550, the last eruption of Vulcanello, which constitutes the northern part of the island.  Vulcanello appeared in 183 B.C. following some underwater eruptions. From the north coast of Vulcanello it is a relatively short crossing to Lipari or you could follow the coast back to harbour and your departure point.
Which ever option you chose you won’t be disappointed Vulcano is a pretty dramatic sea kayaking destination.  We were out for 7 days so our interest lay to the north and some truly spectacular kayaking.

Vulcano
Looking across to Vulcano from Lipari. The crater rim is clearly visible.  Paddling through the stacks was particularly memorable.

Spanish Sea Kayak Symposium

One of the highlights of my year was a visit to the Spanish Symposium, a sea kayaking event, which is held in the small town of Llanca, just south of the Spanish – French border.  It was something we had thought of attending several times over the years but 2017 was the first time that it really possible, and we weren’t disappointed.  A more friendly, well organized event would be hard to find.

Spanish Symposium
The beach at Llanca was the focus for the first 3 day’s of activities.

The format was very simple but very effective.  Virtually everybody camped in the grounds of the local secondary school, we did have to wait for the end of term before putting the tents up.  Every morning members of the local kayak Club prepared a superb breakfast, which was always delivered with a smile.
The first 3 days of the event were based off the beach in Llanca, every morning several hundred paddlers would gather on the beach looking for coloured signs, which represented the various workshops.  From what initially appeared like chaos, emerged order and a variety of sessions, which were all well received.  Despite the variety of nationalities attending there always seemed to be a way of communicating, although my French was tested at times!
Following the 3 days of workshops there were 4 days of paddling when we were able to explore the surprisingly spectacular coastline of the Costa Brava.

Spanish Symposium
One of a number of spectacular physical features along this section of coast.
Spanish Symposium
I was surprised by the height of the cliffs in places. Although not vertical they certainly weren’t climbable.
Spanish Symposium
Cliffs, clear water and very few landing places combine to produce memorable kayaking.

The final day was particularly memorable as we headed north across the border to the French border town of Cerbere.  We took advantage of the ice cream shops and I reflected on the fact that a few months earlier I had arrived in this town on my bike, having riding across France from Jersey over 2 weeks last September.
The Spanish Symposium was a memorable week, the organization was smooth and the members of Club who volunteered their were incredibly friendly.  An event of this size makes considerable demands on the resources of a kayaking Club so it is not an annual event but start planning for the 2019 Spanish Sea Kayaking Symposium, you won’t be disappointed if you manage to get a place.

Kayaking Architecture on the Thames

After a memorable paddle on the Saturday, we joined in the Shadwell Basin paddling festival on the Sunday and although we didn’t paddle that far we had an illuminating talk on the architecture and history of the area by Toby, from the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.  Next time we visit the area we will be looking at the buildings through different eyes.
William Kidd was executed a few yards below Wapping Old Stairs, on May 23rd 1701.  Pirates were normally hung and then chained to a post on the foreshore for 3 tides, as a warning to others.  Today the pirate is commemorated in this riverside pub.
Wapping Police Station is the site of the oldest police force in the world, formed in 1798.  It was formed because of the level of crime on the river.  It was estimated that 11,000 of the 33,000 people who worked on the river, at the time, were known criminals.
Toby was really well prepared with numerous visual aids.  He would land and whilst talking about the area use the photographs to illustrate the history of this area of London.
 Crossing to the south side of the river our first stop was Butler’s Wharf.  Built between 1871 and 1873 it was supposedly the largest tea warehouse in the world at one time.  Today as the docks have moved downstream it has been developed with luxury flats and apartments.
Looking west towards the city skyline, which has changed significantly in the last few years.
 The design of Tower Bridge was the result of a competition.  A number of the submissions were a bit more unusual.
 The bridge was built between 1892 and 93 using granite blocks from near Liskeard, in Cornwall.  Many people are surprised that the bridge isn’t older.
One feature we passed over but couldn’t see was the Thames Tunnel.  It was built between 1825 and 1843 and was designed for horse and carts.  It now forms part of the London Overground railway system, between Wapping and Rotherhithe.  This was the first tunnel in the world to be constructed under a navigable river and when it was completed a banquet was held to celebrate the engineering marvel of the Brunel family.  Although we couldn’t see the tunnel we did pay our respects as we paddled above its route.

A capital paddle – London and its river

There is something quite special about paddling through the heart of one of the world’s great cities.  Over the years I have been drawn to urban areas, as diverse as, Paris, New York, Seattle, Vanvouver and Venice to dip my blades into the water and without exception have never been disappointed.  London is the city, which over the years I have paddled through most regularly.
Each year I have returned to London, to enjoy a weekend on the water with other members of the Jersey Canoe Club, in the company of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.  The last weekend proved to be particularly enjoyable with perfect weather and tidal conditions, which allowed a number of options.
On the Saturday we paddled through the heart of London, from Shadwell Basin to Putney, where we took advantage of a riverside pub to top up our energy levels before heading back to the east end on the ebbing tide.

 Approaching Tower Bridge from the east.  It is interesting to see how the skyline has changed in the 5 years that we have been visiting London for a weekends paddling.
 Underneath Albert Bridge.  Most people have their favourite bridge, with Tower Bridge most people’s choice but the Albert Bridge is a very respectable runner up.
The main reason for stopping at Vauxhall is to buy some egg custards from the Portuguese restaurant across the road but today we were in the company of 4 statues.  The Rising Tide, by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, are 4 horses which become visible as the tide drops.  Their heads have been replaced by oil well pumps, which is apparently a statement on our reliance on fossil fuels.  The are part of the Totally Thames Festival which finishes tomorrow, 30th September.

 With a view like this, it has to be one of the finest day trips that it is possible to do in a sea kayak.  If you haven’t paddled through the centre of London, you should start planning a visit soon.
 The London Eye always looks spectacular when seen from the river.
 The OXO building was a river landmark from the 1930’s until it fell into disuse in the 1970’s.  Refurbished in the 1990’s it is now a vibrant area of the south bank of the Thames with shops, design studios and a delightful restaurant where we once had a memorable meal overlooking the Thames as the sun set over London.
 The old and new of the London skyline.
 Nicky passing the bow of HMS Belfast.
 It was a real surprise to see the PS Waverley, which is the worlds last sea going paddle steamer.  Built in 1946 she spent her working life on the Clyde, in Scotland before retiring in 1973.  Restored to her 1947 appearance she now operates passenger excursions around the British coast.
This was a real surprise to see Tower Bridge opening, to allow the Waverley through.  Although the bridge opens about 850 times a year, to allow ships with a mast height greater than 30 feet to access the Upper Pool of London, I think that this was the first time I had actually seen it open.