Gino Watkins – “Northern Lights”

Numerous books have been written either about Gino Watkins or concerning his exploits in the 1920’s and early 1930’s prior to his untimely death in the waters of eastern Greenland, an area which very few modern paddlers complete with the equipment of the 21st Century venture into.  How much more demanding must have these travels been when undertaken in the equipment of the day?
Watkins is credited with being the first English man to be able to roll his kayak.  A  skill which he thought was essential to master if the aim was to supplement the food supplies with locally caught species.  It was this desire to live off the land which probably cost Watkins his life, although no body was ever found his kayak was recovered and is preserved today at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The book, which is probably easiest to acquire today, is simply called “Gino Watkins” by J M Scott.  It seems that most second hand bookshops, which are searched, will reveal a copy of this book.
A less common title is “Northern Lights” by Spencer Chapman.  It was the official record of the expedition in the 1930’s, which was trying to find an air route from Europe to North America.  I had been looking for a copy for several years when, in the mid 1990’s, I came across a copy at a bookseller in London.  The fact that it was store in a locked glass cabinet should have been enough of a signal that this was a book, which was out of my price range, but curiosity got the better of me and I needed to see exactly what it was like.  Once I had regained my composure after seeing the price, it cost more than some of the cars I have bought in the past, I was able to savour the delights within.  It was a joy to behold and as I opened the covers it only got better.  The author Spencer Chapman had signed it, but more importantly it contained the original cutting from The London Times announcing the death of Watkins.  This was before the contents of the book were reached.  I knew that this was an important volume but one that I was unable to justify buying without discussing at home.  Marriages have probably fallen apart for a lesser sum!

Northern Lights

I reluctantly placed the book back in the hands of the shop assistant and left with his card in my hand and hope in my heart.  After discussion at home it was decided that there could be no better Christmas present for the paddling bibliophile than this particular volume, “Northern Lights”.  It was with some relief that I was able to order the book over the telephone a few days later.  Today it occupies pride of place on my paddling bookshelf.

Northern Lights
The inscription inside the front cover written by F. Spencer Chapman plus the cutting from The Times newspaper of the 7th September 1932.

Read the Water

Read the Water

“Read the Water” is a small booklet written by respected South Wales sea kayak coach, Nige Robinson.  In full colour this is a useful addition to the library of an paddler who pursues their hobby on the sea.
The focus of the book is in helping sea kayakers acquire that almost indefinable quality described as a seamanship.  There are chapters covering such diverse topics such “Fundamentals”, “Observing the water”, “Change”, “Wind and weather”, “Surf”, and “Moving Water”.
The book has a pretty unique approach to instruction, not so much telling you what you need to know but prompting you to question what you see.  Encouraging you to try and make sense of what you are seeing and if possible to predict any possible changes.  Experienced paddlers are always assessing their environment, the interaction between the water, air and land and deciding what is an appropriate course of action.
What do these clouds mean, what is the consequence of tidal change on the water, interpreting colour to decide what the sea bed and sea shore consist of.  Once you have interpreted the data it is possible to make an informed judgement, as to whether the trip can continue or whether it should be amended or even abandoned.
In addition it encourages paddlers to use all their senses.  How often have you heard experienced paddlers say “The tide is against us here”.  They have developed a feel for what the water is doing and are able to come to a conclusion without being reliant on visual information.
This is a book to dip into on a regular basis, as opposed to just sitting down and reading it in one go.  Look at a few of the photographs, interpret what they are showing and then head out on to the water to put it into practice.  It is certainly a novel approach for a book but it is well worth pursuing.  A worthwhile investment.
The book is available by mail order for £10.99 from Nige at Sea Kayak Guides,.

Coasteering – A Practical Guide

Coasteering Book Cover

Coasteering is the perfect activity to to accompany a days sea kayaking, or as an alternative challenge if you fancy something different when visiting the coast.
Over the years coasteering has received a significant amount of bad press, largely with the “popular media” referring to it as “tombstoning”.  With the appropriate training and equipment it is actually a very safe activity and has given tens of thousands of people many hours of pleasure.
Although many people consider it a relatively recent development, in Jersey, in small groups of friends, we were exploring the coastline in the 1970’s.  My research has uncovered evidence of people exploring the coastline of Great Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Many of these people had backgrounds in mountaineering.
Today, the people who are coasteering are as likely to have come from surfing and kayaking as they are from rock climbing.  Wet suits and buoyancy aids are the equipment of choice as opposed to ropes and boots.
Despite the adverse publicity coasteering is becoming more popular year after year.  Certain areas of the UK, such as Pembrokeshire and Cornwall have been seen as the main centres of coasteering activity but the popularity has spread.  Now there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people enjoying the activity from the Channel Islands in the south to the Hebrides in the north, with regions such as Dorset in between.
In the past many people have relied upon commercial providers to run guided trips but more and more families and friends are discovering the pleasure of undertaking journeys along the base of cliffs, combining the skills of swimming and rock scrambling.
I have written this book in an attempt to provide people with basic information necessary to safely undertake this exciting activity.  It covers topics such as:
1. Equipment
2. Techniques
3. Leadership
4. Sea state and weather
The book is available for the Kindle from Amazon, and hopefully it will be useful resource for those people want to up coasteering.

Tide, Feather, Snow

In 1998 I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks kayaking in Alaska, I remember being particularly excited as it was the first sea kayaking trip away that I had organized completely via the internet.
We flew into Homer, chartered a boat to take us out and spent 3 weeks paddling back in to Homer.  It was a scenically spectacular area with great wildlife and we were lucky that for the first 10 days we didn’t experience any of the rain for which the region is famous.

Alaska
This is the view across Kachemak Bay towards the Kenai Fjords National Park. It was taken at the end of our trip to the State and there were already indications that winter was approaching

I came across the book “Tide, Feather, Snow” by Miranda Weiss towards the end of last year.  It describes the life of somebody who moves to Alaska and lives in Homer.  The book describes the Homer that we knew, I recognized the descriptions of the town, of the bars and some of the towns characters, reading it brought back some great memories of that summer at the end of the 1990’s.
It is a delightful read which reflects on the challenges of living in the largest State.  Anybody who has an interest in the north or has been to Alaska will really enjoy this book by Miranda Weiss.

Tide, Feather, Snow