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.
It is hard to imagine that when I was 26 years of age, in 1983, along with a few friends, we arranged a two month sea kayaking trip to Svalbard. The plan was to paddle the whole of the west coast of Spitsbergen, a distance of over 600 nautical miles, when the out and back mileage was taken into account.
This was in the days before Svalbard had hit the tourist radar. Very few people managed to visit this lonely northern archipelago, in the last 4 weeks we only saw one other person and was briefly for a few minutes when he landed his helicopter! We didn’t even see any boats or ships in the distance.
The costs were quite phenomenal for the time and without considerable support from family and friends we would never have raised the amount of money required to put on such a trip. We had to ship out our kayaks, equipment and all our food. The price of flights was astronomical, I have paid less this morning to book flights to northern Norway in July 2018 than my flights cost in 1983.
Without doubt though this was one of the defining periods in my life, we had to be totally self sufficient, there was no satellite phone, GPS etc but we did need really powerful rifles as protection against the polar bears, which inhabit the region. One of us had tuition in how to stitch wounds, although the thought of letting somebody near us with a needle filled us with dread.
These are a few of the pictures taken in this arctic outpost over 34 years ago. Apologies for the quality of some of the scans from my old slides.
This is an updated version of an article I wrote in 2005 regarding the use of shoe polish to improve the look of my 1980’s vintage Nordkapp HM.
Polishing your Kayak Always one for the soft touch as I walked around the London Boat Show I was convinced, along with a couple of companions, that I really needed some leather balsam for protecting my shoes. I parted with my £10.00 and walked on my way. Some time later I stumbled across some fibre glass polish, now this was interesting as my 20 year old Nordkapp was starting to show its age. Whereas £10 seemed a huge amount for shoe polish I was far more willing to part with £40 to protect my beloved sea kayak.
I returned home with two types of polish with the aim of writing a review of the one for fibre glass. I followed the instructions and sat back to review my handy work. With my hand on my heart I felt unable to write a review as I didn’t want you, dear reader, to make the same mistake as me and part with their hard earned cash. The fibre glass polish was really disappointing.
Each week I used the leather balsam on my shoes never realizing that I held in my hand the key to restoring my kayak to some of its former glory. That is until Chris said, “Have you tried the shoe polish on your kayak?” Somewhat sceptically I applied the polish, it was quick and easy to do and the impact was amazing. Almost instantly scratches appeared to disappear and the colours were restored.
A photograph taken in 2005, which clearly illustrates the difference an application of Renapur polish can make to the appearance of a kayak.
Once the kayak was on the water the droplets glistened in the sunlight, it was just like paddling a new kayak. The great thing is that it only takes a matter of minutes to re-apply the polish, therefore it can be repeated on a regular basis ensuring that your precious kayak maintains its perfect looks.
Paddling around Nordkapp in August 1986. At this point the kayak was just over 12 months old. There has been a lot of water under the hull since then.
The Nordkapp on a beach in Greenland in 1993, still looking pretty good.
The freshly polished front deck. Unfortunately it wasn’t sunny, if it had been the water droplets would be sparkling. This was taken today returning to Jersey from the Ecrehous.
The product is “Renapur Leather Balsam”. Forget your shoes apply it to your kayak!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leaving the harbour we turned north and approached one of the most amazing physical spectacles I have seen anywhere.
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.