Sea Kayaking Frustration

It has been nearly nine weeks since I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon, whilst kayaking and swimming on the south coast of Gozo.

Gozo
Taken on the 5th April in Mgarr ix Xini, on the south coast of Gozo. About 20 minutes after I ruptured my achilles.

Today it was time for another visit to the hospital, to have my cast taken off, be seen by a consultant, with the possibility of a further few weeks in plaster.  In fact was transpired was good news, no more plaster and the start on the long road to recovery.  Physio has started and at some point in the next couple of months, hopefully the possibility of some low level paddling.
I think I can count myself fortunate that I have reached the age of 61, without having to have any part of my body put in plaster. The last 9 weeks with my lower left leg in plaster have been a complete revelation.
Simple everyday tasks take on a new challenge. Carrying drinks is virtually impossible unless they are put in flask or a jar with a lid on. I actually haven’t made a hot drink since my injury as I am concerned about the possibility of spilling boiling water.
Public toilets are a whole new challenge, normally access is relatively easy for those people with reduced mobility. The real hazard is the area around the wash hand basins. Normally there is a significant amount of water on the floor, which when combined with the normally slippery surface creates a real problem for somebody on crutches. Twice I have slipped on a wet floor, so now in the interests of personal safety I stopped washing my hands in public toilets.
Some shops are easier to navigate than others, one particular outdoor shop in Fort William was a nightmare.  Steps with broken bricks to navigate and stairs inside the building making browsing the products inside the shop a major challenge.  What I have developed over the last few weeks is a greater understanding of the challenges that some people have to face everyday.
Today though, instead of another few weeks in plaster, I have been given a modified boot, had my first appointment at the physio department and started on the rehabilitation road.  Any form of normal activity is still many weeks away, my decision to cancel my paddling trip to the Lofoten’s in July is still justified but I feel confident enough to start to plan a short trip to Herm, in September, to coincide with their beer festival.
By the time I get back on the water, probably towards the end of August, it will have been 5 months since I have been out kayaking, which is quite possibly the longest time without going on the water, since I took up kayaking.  I don’t think I will ever take paddling (or getting around towns) for granted again.

Herm
Approaching Herm in 2017 after paddling the 17 nm from Jersey, in one direct crossing.

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.

 

Circumnavigation of Gozo

It had always been an ambition of mine to paddle around Gozo in a day but on every previous visit to the Island the weather had been too unsettled or I had been with paddlers who might have found it a bit too much of a challenge.
It was a surprise therefore after the winds of the last 5 or 6 days a narrow window of opportunity seemed to open up and so at 07.30 Thursday morning we found ourselves at Dahlet Qorrot, unloading kayaks and sorting kit for an 08.00 departure.
We were heading around Gozo in a clock wise direction so just after 08.00 we were heading for the easterly point before turning onto the south coast.  As we paddled along we disturbed a short eared owl, which hopefully didn’t hang around on the Islands much longer as it would be at high risk of being shot!   Just past the harbour at Mgarr, we came across a couple of hunters, who had decoys floating offshore, as they sat with guns at the ready.  That probably goes someway to explaining why we saw virtually no sea birds all day.

Gozo
Approaching the harbour at Mgarr, always busy with ferry traffic care is needed when crossing the entrance.
Gozo
We paddled into the deep inlet, partly in the hope of a coffee, sadly the cafe didn’t open for another 90 minutes.
Gozo
The cliffs in between Mgarr Ix-Xini and Xleni are the most spectacular in the area, rising vertically up to 130 metres. They are important nesting sites for some of the Shearwaters, which breed in the area.
Gozo
We rafted up just off the north coast to grab a quick bite to eat. We didn’t really have enough time to paddle inshore and land.
Gozo
Not quite as dramatic as the Azure Window was, Wied Il-Mielah is still a pretty spectacular arch.
Gozo
Just to east of the north coast salt pans there are some rather unusual rock formations. We felt we were on the home stretch paddling along here.

We pulled back into Dahlet Qorrot at about 15.15, we hadn’t raced around but we certainly hadn’t just dawdled along.  Apart from the extra time to go into Mgarr Ix-Xini we didn’t really stop and we certainly didn’t get out of the kayaks.  Chris did have an appointment at 15.30 though so we were on a bit of a schedule.
I have heard lots of distances given for the circumnavigation of Gozo and most of the them also include the phrase “It is about”.  It was good to be able to measure the distance on the GPS and confirm that our route was exactly 20 nautical miles.  Spectacular scenery and good company combined to produce a memorable day out.  I just hope that I don’t have to wait another 5 years before I repeat it.

Gozo Sea Kayaking

This is an article I  wrote over 4 years ago after a visit to Gozo.  Although I had been several times before conditions had never been good enough to paddle around to the Azure  Window from the south coast.  It was memorable day, which I repeated a number of times in the following years but one, which will never be the same again.

After a couple of kayaking visits to Gozo I still hadn’t managed to paddle the south west corner of the island, from Xlendi around to the Azure Window.  It just seemed that whenever we were on the island the wind was just a bit to strong from the wrong direction so we were pretty pleased when a window in the weather appeared on one of the final days that we were there. We weren’t disappointed.

Dramatic vertical cliffs, with virtually no places to get off the water.  The nearest land to out left is Algeria whilst straight ahead is Tunisia.  It is easy forget just how far south Malta and Gozo are.
 The Inland Sea, access to the open water is through the obvious cave.  We popped in for a an ice cream and a quick swim.
 Paddling under the Azure Window, not a totally relaxing experience because since a previous visit a fairly substantial area of rock had fallen into the sea and we hoping that there wasn’t a repeat performance.
 Lunch was on the rocks close to Fungus Rock.  Malta Fungus was discovered growing on the rock and believed that it had medicinal properties.  The rock was decreed out of bounds in 1746, with a guard posted there to protect the plant.
At the back of the bay close to Fungus Rock there is cave with two entrances.  The tunnel joining the two is particularly tight but there are some superb deposits on the rocks.

Heading back to Xlendi, it was only a short paddle but was full of contrasts.

Azure Window
After many visits to Gozo over the years and plenty of opportunity to view the changes online it was still a shock to see what impact the events of the 8th March 2017 have had on the coastal scenery of the island.

Sea Kayaking around Comino

Comino is the third largest island in the Maltese archipelago and a particularly special one to paddle around.  Leaving from Hondoq, on Gozo, it is not a particularly long trip, just under 6 nautical miles, but it never fails to entertain.  For today’s paddle we were fortunate enough to be able to use kayaks from Kayak Gozo and were really pleased that Chris, from the company was able to join us.  It has been just over 2 years since I last paddled with him, on a particularly memorable visit to Herm.
Thousands of tourists visit the Blue Lagoon every day during the height of the tourist season and even on a Friday in November it was pretty busy.  During the summer months it isn’t possible to paddle through the Blue Lagoon as it is roped off for swimmers, but the ropes were taken away a few days previously and so for the first time in over 5 years I passed through the Blue Lagoon.
There was some reasonably choppy water as we made our way around the south west corner of the island, past the small lighthouse.  It wasn’t long though before we were surfing parallel to the south coast.

Comino
Nicky off the south west point of Comino. Marked on some of the maps as Lantern Point. Not the most spectacular lighthouse.
Comino
I always like this arch on the south coast of Comino although I think that it always looks better on sunny summer days.

After stopping for a quick stretch of the legs we carried on until we reached the east coast.  The kayaking is truly memorable with some challenging rock hopping at times plus some superb caves just waiting to be explored.

Comino
One of the many caves on Comino. Due to the fairly strong westerly wind only those on the east coast could really be explored.
Comino
Looking through the arch on the north west corner of Comino. The buildings behind are on Gozo.
Comino
Laurie and Simone performing a head stand in their double. Unfortunately their previous attempt had been virtually perfect but I was too slow with the camera.

The weather wasn’t quite as good as on some previous visits but the circumnavigation of Comino is always something special.  It didn’t disappoint today.

Malta Sea Kayaking

Malta and its smaller neighbour, Gozo, have been a rich hunting ground for my sea kayaking journeys in recent years although I first visited Malta in 1971, when on a school cruise. We disembarked at Valletta, had a coach tour of the Island, of which I have virtually no memory, re-embarked on the ship and headed for Lisbon.
It wasn’t until 41 years later that I returned to the archipelago, drawn by the prospect of potential sea kayaking. I had been taking groups of young people kayaking in the Greek islands on an annual basis for a number of years but I needed somewhere a bit more accessible and that didn’t require an extra nights stop in London, both the way out and the way back. One of the disadvantages of living in Jersey are flight connections.
A quick search of potential sites produced a company called Gozo Adventures. They were able to offer the complete package and the flight timings were pretty much ideal. A booking was made for June 2012.
I strongly believe that if you are working with groups you should really have paddled in the area beforehand otherwise how can you acquire the knowledge, which is necessary for the group to gain maximum benefit from the experience. It is simple things such as, where do I park the car, which café serves the best ice cream and where are we going to stop for lunch? Getting these little things right can have a significant impact on the quality of the experience of the group members.
The plan was for Nicky and myself to visit Gozo over the Easter period so that I could familiarize myself with the Island before arriving in June. Unfortunately 10 days before the visit was due to start I broke my elbow, whilst tying some Stand Up Paddleboards on the roof of the car. Fortunately I have a wife who is a strong paddler so the visit went ahead and I was paddled around in the front seat of a double. It did enable me to get some great photographs of the coastline and enabled me to prepare for the later visit.

Gozo
Paddling through a cave system at the back of Dwerja Bay on Gozo.  A challenging location with a broken arm.
Malta
Paddling towards the south west corner of Gozo from Xlendi. There was a bit of swell running that day, the arm was still broken this day.

In the 4 years that followed I made a further 7 visits, with groups of a young people, with members of the Jersey Canoe Club and to offer training to some of the paddlers who were living on Gozo.
In the intervening years I have welcomed Maltese kayakers to Jersey waters and even had one of the people who I trained move in with me, as he moved to Jersey for a short while to work as a kayaking instructor. Sadly I didn’t manage to visit the islands in 2016 and I wasn’t going to allow a repeat performance in 2017 so this morning we flew from London to Malta. We are really looking forward to the opportunity to explore more of this archipelago by kayak, hopefully starting tomorrow when we head out with some of the members of Sea Kayak Malta.

Malta
There are some really dramatic cliffs on the north west corner of Gozo and there are not that many landing places. It feels quite committing.
Malta
Paddling through an arch on the south coast of Comino.
Malta
Memorable paddling conditions close to the Blue Lagoon on Comino.

North West Gozo

Having paddled quite regularly in Gozo over the last few years there was still one section of coast which had eluded me, the north west corner of the island.  A visit in June provided the opportunity to explore this section of coast and we weren’t disappointed.

 We left from Obajjar Bay on the north coast with the aim of paddling to Xlendi on the south coast.  For me this was closing the circle.  This was the only section of the Gozo coastline that I hadn’t paddled before.  To the right of the paddlers the low lying rocks are the salt pans.  The are about 350 years old.
 Entering Wied il-Ghasri, a narrow inlet on the north coast.  It is the last place with easy access to the cliff top until you reach the Inland Sea on the west coast.
 Turning west from Wied il-Ghasri, the vertical and uninterrupted cliffs stretch to the west.  The start of some really memorable kayaking.
 Wied Il-Mielah is a stunning arch, part of the way along the northcoast.  We returned the following day, abseiled down the side of the arch before climbing back out.  a pleasant addition to a kayaking trip.
 There were numerous caves to be explored, some of them going some considerable way into the cliffs.
 Approaching the north coast cliffs, the top of the lighthouse is just visible.
 Looking down from the cliff top later in the day.
 Approaching San Dimitri Point, the north west corner of Gozo.  Amazingly from this point there is no land before Barcelona.  You don’t always imagine areas in the Mediterranean having such a large fetch.
 One of the great thing about paddling in Gozo there is always something to do over lunch.  Laurie swimming off the slip.
If people can hold their breath long enough it is always good fun to build a human tower.  4 people standing on each others shoulders was our best result that day.