Good and bad

Thursday was certainly a day of contrasts, both good and bad.  It all started so well, we were at Hondoq early, for our kayaking trip along the south coast of Gozo.  It was rather a grey morning but there was the promise of so much more.
As a small group the kayaks were quickly packed and we were heading east along the south coast towards the main harbour. The small cliffs, punctuated by a number of caves provided interest, whilst up above the clouds were moving away to the south east, to be replaced by warm sunshine.
It was the morning rush hour in the Gozo Channel, all 3 ferries were moving so we ensured that our crossing of the narrow harbour entrance coincided with a lull in the activity. To the west of the harbour the steep coast continued, rising up to Fort Chambray.  The Fort was built in the mid 18th Century, whilst during the Crimean War it was used as a hospital, which treated hundreds of injured British soldiers.
This wasn’t the only sign of military activity along the coast, we could clearly see the blue railings, which surrounded a Fougassee.  It was a weapon to protect the coast from landings, effectively a rudimentary form of mortar, excavated into the rock.  Effectively an upside down cone, which was filled with stones and gun powder.  When the powder was ignited it was supposed to throw the stones onto the enemy.  It all sounds rather haphazard and potentially not that effective.
We carried on to the cliffs at Ta Cenc, which are pretty spectacular and home to a number of breeding birds although we didn’t see too many on this particular.  All to soon it was time to retrace part of the journey, our stomachs were telling us that it was lunch time.
Lunch was at Mgarr Ix Xini, a delightful location but one which requires cars at times as the boat ramp is as slippy as any one I have ever experienced. After lunch, Michael, our enthusiastic guide from Gozo Adventures, offered to help some of the people in the group with their rolling. The enthusiasm of youth. I was more than happy to sit and enjoy some warm, early season sunshine.
In fact it was so warm I was tempted to have a swim, an activity which I don’t really see as that risky. The water was reasonably warm so Rachel and myself swam out to the steps, which have been so thoughtfully provided on the eastern side of the bay. We climbed onto the rocks, before deciding to jump back into water, swim back to the kayaks and start the journey back to Hondoq.
It is at this point, if I had the gift of time travel I would use it. My jump into the water, from just over 1 metre in height was accompanied by a rather large crack and as I surfaced I realised that I had a very floppy left foot. Now I am no doctor, but I can recognise the symptoms of a damaged achilles. I explained in a rather calm voice to Rachel, that I was in a bit of difficult situation and might at some point require some assistance.
I was able to swim, using arms only, back to Michael, our faithful rolling coach and explaining I didn’t want to cause a fuss but we had a rather tricky situation. There were a lot of people down the bay that day, the restaurant was busy, there were groups of French hikers etc. The last thing we needed was a spectacle and a lot of onlookers.
I continued swimming into shallow water and was able to sit on the age of the slip. At this point the shakes commenced, it might have been the result of the cold or some shock from the injury. Whatever the cause I received excellent support and care from Tracey, Rachel and Yvonne. Michael by this time was on the phone and calling the cavalry.
Cornil, the cavalry, from Gozo Adventures was on the slipway with a car within 20 minutes and I was on my way to Gozo Hospital, without anybody on the beach being aware that there had been a problem. On reflection it was a group of experienced paddlers, working together to resolve an incident, in an efficient and timely fashion. Exactly why we practice a range of scenarios on our training courses, it could be called incident management but in reality it is an appropriate and proportional response, to a situation, which ensures the comfort and safety of the casualty, whilst not forgetting the needs of the rest of the group.
The treatment I received at the Gozo Hospital was prompt, effective and delivered with such good humour. The staff seemed to have time to give the patients the care and attention they needed, without appearing rushed or stressed. I write this as British Airways flies me north from the Mediterranean sunshine, towards some inevitable further treatment but I feel pretty relieved. I was with a group of paddlers who tended to my immediate needs, I had access to prompt help from the company we were with and ended up in an efficient medical care system.  It was certainly a day of both good and bad.
So next time somebody proposes some training and looking at scenarios grasp the opportunity with both hands. Don’t assume that because there is somebody with greater experience in the group that you won’t have to become involved or even manage the situation. We are all potentially as vulnerable and just as likely to need care and support from our fellow paddlers.
Thanks, in no particular order to Michael, Tracey, Rachel, Yvonne, Geoff and Cornil. Hopefully we will be able to paddle together again before the summer is out.

Good and bad
Michael launching at Hondoq.
Good and bad
Almost everybody is afloat. Behind lies Comino, which is the destination for Friday’s paddle. Sadly I will be otherwise engaged.
Good and bad
One of the ferries, which the connection between Gozo and Malta.
Good and bad
Rachel passing under the steep slopes close to Fort Chambary
Good and bad
The Fougassee, taken whilst walking along this stretch of coast in November last year, but its location was clearly visible from the sea.
Just in front of the Mgarr ix Xini tower. Completed in 1661 it is one of the 4 surviving towers on Gozo.  One of the last photographs of me with two working legs for a few months>
Good and bad
Cliffs just to the west of Mgarr ix Xini are truly spectacular. This was about as far as we went before returning east for lunch and the somewhat inconvenient incident.
Good and Bad
I managed to swim towards Michael, who was conducting a rolling session. I received superb assistance from the other people in the group.

Gozo’s South Coast

I have paddled along Gozo’s south coast numerous times over the last five years but the beginning of November was the first time that I had the opportunity to walk along a significant portion of the cliffs and it is interesting to compare the experiences.
We took the bus to the harbour at Mġarr with the intention of walking to Xlendi.  We had a number of guide books , which all recommended a slightly different route. Route finding turned out to be easier than anticipated as it was largely a matter of flowing the red dots and occasional arrows.
The scenery was superb, as we expected, with great views across to Comino and Malta.  In one place we were able to look north across the Island and in the distance could see the coast of Sicily.  I think that this is my 9th visit to Gozo but today was the first time that I had seen their Italian neighbour, to the north.  As walked towards the west the small island of Filfla came into view away to the south.  We also had clear views of the section of the north west coast of Malta we had paddled last week.
What did shock us though, was the sheer scale of the hunting which was being practiced in the area.  As we walked along we realised that most of the background bird noise was coming from caged birds, which we were being used to attract wild birds so they could be shot.  Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Linnets, Chaffinches and a number of other species were caged in their hundreds.
We didn’t want to get too close, or attract attention, as there were quite a few men sitting in the small hunting hides, complete with rifles.  Along one section of the coast there were numerous nets, which were clearly used for hunting as well.  I think that for most people the scale and impact of the hunting would have a serious impact on their enjoyment of the day.
Kayaking along this section of coast you have no idea what is going on above but walking does allow access to some of the more interesting historical features.  The walk from the harbour to Xlendi was nearly 9 miles and took significantly longer to walk than it does to paddle.
For navigation we used the ViewRanger App, which is amazingly accurate and well worth getting if you have an appropriate phone.

Gozo South Coast
To the west of the harbour is the small bay of Ix-Xatt I-Ahmar. On the westren side of the bay there is superb diving with a deliberately sunk ferry boat. Above is Fort Chambray
Gozo South Coast
Paddling into Ix-Xatt I-Ahmar on a warm calm day. Time for a swim.  Fort Chambray is clearly visible above.
Gozo South Coast
A beautifully sheltered bay. It was used by Turkish raiders to load captured Gozitans onto their galleys. Today it is a much more peaceful location and is where the film “By the Sea” starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt was shot.
Gozo South Coast
We had a brief stop here on our paddle around Gozo at the beginning of November this year.
Gozo South Coast
Walking along the spectacular south coast cliffs. The views are truly spectacular but the number of hunters operating in the area did give some cause for concern.
Gozo South Coast
This is a serious section of coast with nowhere to land until you arrive at Xlendi. As regards the body you are likely to end up with a stiff neck from continually looking upwards to take in the scale of the physical landscape.
Gozo South Coast
Looking into the sheltered bay at Xlendi and the end of our walk and time for a relaxing pint. Behind the village is the abandoned flour mill which was excavated into the hillside during the Cold War, so that flour could be produced if there was a nuclear conflict.
Gozo South Coast
Paddling back into the bay of Xlendi after a delightful paddle round to the west coast of Gozo.

 

Tall cliffs and Arctic Foxes

The east coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland is a truly spectacular stretch of coast but it requires detailed examination of the maps to truly appreciate the height of the cliffs. Usually they are viewed from the coast opposite when heading north from Ilulissat. In places they rise almost vertically for about 2,000 feet, a feature which is clearly going to attract kayakers.  At first the cliffs were not unlike other areas that we have paddled, in size, but as we headed north the scale shifted significantly. The size of the cliffs alters your perception so at times you thought I’ll just nip across this inlet. That inlet could be several miles across so if you are not careful you find yourself paddling offshore for an hour or so, rather than exploring the base of the cliffs, which was the focus for the day.

High cliffs
At first the cliffs were more like slabs, but still 1,000 feet high.
Bergs
Although we had come to paddle the cliffs we still had a few bergs to navigate around

I had only paddled these cliffs once before, late one afternoon about 9 years ago, it was memorable but not like this time. Paddling them in the morning ensured that the sun was in the perfect position for highlighting the physical features and accentuating the texture of the rock. We considered stopping for lunch at the base of the cliffs but there was no protection from any potential stone fall, so we took the sensible option and paddled the 3 miles across to the mainland.

High cliffs
The kayaker gives some idea of the scale of the cliffs
High cliffs
Approaching the highest point of the cliffs, around 2,000 feet high
High cliffs
Moving offshore the true scale of the cliffs becomes apparent

The lunch spot turned out to be rather pleasant and so we decided to stay there the night, something we were really grateful for as the wind increased significantly overnight and we ended up remaining there the following day. I have visited Greenland regularly in the last 25 years but this summer was without doubt the most unsettled weather wise. We lost 2 whole days due to strong winds plus had several late starts or early finishes. Other years I have been able to complete a 3 week kayaking trip without having to modify our plans because of unsettled weather.
Although today’s paddling had been spectacular it had been rather short, about 13 miles and so after lunch I took advantage of the sheltered bay to practice some rolling. Although we didn’t see any other kayakers this year on previous trips we had always seen other paddlers and I was amazed to see people not wearing dry suits. Many of the French, in particular, seem to avoid wearing dry suits, something which I consider to be rather irresponsible considering the water temperature and potential survival times. I did one roll, no problem, on my second roll I exclaimed about the pain in my head and after my third roll I was unable to speak and needed to hold my head. It was difficult to understand just what it would be like if you were in the water for any length of time. Once I had warmed my head and hands I thought a re-entry and roll would be a good idea, I am not sure anybody else thought it was. I was pretty quick and wearing a dry suit but I still found it rather challenging temperature wise, swimming after a capsize without wearing a dry suit just doesn’t bear thinking about.
For me the highlight of the campsite was a father friendly Arctic Fox cub, it didn’t seem in the least bit concerned by our presence. Returning several times during the time we spent at the campsite, clearly ignoring the advice of its parents who were calling from the hillside above. I just hope that he makes it through its first winter.

Arctic Fox
This fox was quite happy sitting close by and scratching himself
Arctic Fox
The fox was close I had to move back so that the camera could focus.

The following morning the calm of the previous day had been replaced by a significant wind blowing from the south, we clearly weren’t going anywhere soon. One of the tings that has improved in the last few years off the west coast of Greenland has been the mobile phone coverage. Although rarely have a signal when you land, walk uphill a bit and you can be quite lucky. Just remember to brief friends or relatives about what information you need in a forecast before you leave.
A half mile walk put us in a position where we could get a faint signal and the information that we received back was all very positive. Light winds, no rain and reasonable temperatures until we arrived back in Ilulissat. As we settled do we for the night little did we realise just how wrong that forecast was to be.

Sitting on the rocks
The sun might be shining but it was still a cold evening meal.