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,.

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.

Channel Islands Sea Kayaking

A few pictures of sea kayaking around the Channel Islands, mostly from about 30 years ago or slightly older.  The difference in shape of the images is because the earlier ones were taken with a Kodak Instamatic camera (remember those?) before I had a job which paid enough money to be able to buy a 35mm camera.
In all the time that we spent paddling around the Channel Islands in the 1970’s and 80’s I don’t think we ever bumped into any other sea kayakers, it really did feel like an era of exploration.

Channel Islands
This is returning to Jersey (visible behind the paddlers) from Sark in June 1979. Note the old style of Henderson screw hatches.
Channel Islands
Another image from the Sark paddle in 1979, in those days the only sea kayak which we considered having was a Nordkapp HM. If you could afford it you had Lendal Nordkapp paddles with wooden blades, if not you just used your standard Wild Water paddles.
Channel Islands
Heading north from Jersey, the island is Sark, which was our original destination but we changed part of the way across and decided to go to Guernsey instead. The paddler is Derek Hairon who now runs Jersey Kayak Adventures.
Channel Islands
Arrival at Bordeaux in Guernsey on our day trip from Jersey. What had planned to be a gentle paddle turned into a 40 nautical mile day trip. In the distance can be seen Herm (left), Jethou (right) and Sark just visible between the two. On the return journey we stopped off at Herm to phone through to our parents to let them know that we were going to be late home and the telephone box still had buttons A and B to press.
Channel Islands
The summer of 1982, I was getting married and so distant holidays were out of the question but we had a great two weeks paddling around the Channel Islands. This is Port au Moulin on the west coast of Sark in August 1982.
Channel Islands
Havre Gosselin, on the west coast of Sark This was on an Advanced Sea Assessment in May 1983. The Nordkapp HM still dominated the kayaks in use in the Channel Islands. This photograph was used on the front cover of Canoeist Magazine.
Channel Islands
Leaving Creux Harbour, Sark in December 1983. We left Greve de Lecq, on the north coast of Jersey, in the dark and crossed the 12 nautical miles to Sark. The idea was to purchase duty free drink for Christmas and we had a significant number of orders. Unfortunately the shops were shut so that part of the paddle failed. We did managed to find a toasted cheese sandwich before returning to Jersey and landing back at Greve in the dark.
Channel Islands
In the 1980’s I was busy running lots of training and assessment courses for the BCU Senior Instructor Award. This was December 1983 on the south coast of Guernsey. The paddler in blue is Ron Moore, a superb coach and legendary speaker who was based in Plymouth, who is sadly no longer with us.
Channel Islands
Another BCU training course in October 1984. This is at Havelet, just south of St Peter Port. Plastic kayaks had made an appearance, although Brian Aplin is still paddling what looks like a fibre glass KW7. It was Brian who I accompanied on his swim a couple of months ago, from Lihou to the Hanois.
Channel Islands
The Minquiers in September 1985. We visited this reef to the south of Jersey as a day trip whilst training for the Canoe Club paddle we were planning for the following summer when we kayaked from Tromso to Honnigsvag, around Nordkapp.
Channel Islands
In the 1980’s I ran a canoeing (kayaking) school in Jersey but we used to do lots of trips away. This is crossing from Guernsey to Herm in perfect conditions in July 1989.
Channel Islands
1989 saw the arrival of the Aleut II, designed a built by Howard Jeffs. I still have this kayak. It opened up a number of possibilities. Pete Scott and myself attempted to paddle around the Channel Islands but it also meant that some people could undertake paddles that they might not have done on their own. This is two of the younger Club members heading down the east coast of Sark in June 1990.
Channel Islands
I think this was still a Senior Instructor course, we hadn’t quite become Level 3 coaches. This is launching down the steep slipway in Saints Bay Guernsey in October 1990. I was amazed that we survived all these courses because nobody had heard of risk assessments etc. What I do remember was that there was always a huge element of fun.

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.

Grand Harbour Valletta

There are some truly memorable urban sea kayaking destinations such as the Hudson River in New York and the Thames in London.  Today we experienced a third, the Grand Harbour Valletta.  A paddle steeped in history and geography.
Once again we were the guests of the Malta Sea Kayak Club.  They have really convenient premises close to the Sliema – Valletta ferry, with a good selection of sea kayaks.  Once we were kitted out what followed was 3 hours of memorable sea kayaking, explore the various areas of the Grand Harbour.  Clearly paddling in such a busy commercial environment requires care and knowledge.  Our local guides were, yet again, Ian and Andrea and it was a pleasure to be on the water with them again.
The history of the various locations around the harbour is well documented, ranging from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Ottoman’s tried to evict the Knights of St John, and the blockade of 1800 as a result of which, the French surrendered, enabling the British to establish rule over the islands.  Possibly the most memorable military event was the relentless bombing of the island by the Italians and Germans during the Second World War.
It is possible to read about the history and to visit some of the excellent museums, but what we had today was a totally unique perspective on one of the great natural harbours in the world.

Grand Harbour Valletta
Getting ready to leave from in front the Malta Sea Kayak Club in Marsamxett Harbour.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Passing the bow of a ship moored the the Grand Harbour.  It makes you realize just how vulnerable you are in a sea kayak,when you are so close to such a vessel.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Passing in front of some oil rigs which were in French Creek.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Passing the stern of a huge cruise ship alongside the quay in the Grand Harbour.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Nicky inside Laguna Marina, with the colourful Valletta waterfront behind.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Ian passing in front of Fort St Angelo.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Nicky paddling underneath Ricasoli Fort, just to the south of Grand Harbour.
Grand Harbour Valletta
Returning to Marsamxett Harbour from the south of Grand Harbour at the last light of day.

North West Malta

The coast of north west Malta was to provide an entertaining introduction to kayaking on the largest island of the archipelago.  We launched out through the surf at Ghajn Bay before turning north with the intention of reaching Popeye’s Village.
As we paddled along the coast we passed Golden Bay, its beach dominated by the large hotel above.  It is easy to imagine just how busy this area could be on a hot August day but on the last day of October it appeared relatively quiet.  There were numerous opportunities for rock hopping along this section of coast but the ever present swell was creating some entertaining conditions.
Although the modern developments associated with the tourist industry are clearly visible on the cliffs above fortifications are an indication of the more turbulent past.  Ta Ghajn Tuffieha Tower was the first tower that we passed, built in 1637.  It was the second of a series of small coastal towers known as Lascaris Towers constructed when Giovanni Paolo Lascaris was elected Grand Master of the Order of St John.

North west Malta
Ta Ghajn Tuffieha Tower, one of several fortifications along the coast.
North West Malta
Some of the cliffs on the way to Popeye Village.

The most northerly point of our paddle was Popeye Village, it started life in 1980 as a film set for the musical “Popeye” starring Robin Williams.  A popular tourist attraction, it was fairly quiet and today and we were allowed to land on the slip briefly.  A member of the staff from the cafe came down and took our coffee order, which was promptly delivered.  Such excellent service.

North West Malta
Nicky just off Popeye Village. We had just had our much appreciated coffee.

From there we turned south, enjoying the lively water conditions, aiming for the large headland of Ras ir Raheb.  The steep limestone cliffs were reflecting the waves straight back out to sea and the resulting clapotis provided some enjoyable paddling.  Just to the south of the headland there was a large cave, which we managed to paddled into despite the sea conditions, although the noise was quite something.
We returned north to Ghajn Bay, enjoying the last of the 11 nautical miles that we had paddled along the coast of north west Malta.  A great introduction to paddling in Malta with the Malta Sea Kayak Club.

North West Malta
The large cave, which marked to southern point of our paddle. The noise inside was pretty awesome due to the breaking waves.
North West Malta
Andrea getting a bit of air on one of the steeper waves close to the cliffs
North West Malta
Paddling close to the cliffs gave us some interesting conditions as the waves bounced back from the vertical limestone.
North West Malta
Every known and again what seemed like fairly simple passages became more challenging with the arrival of a big set as Ian found out.

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.

Sea Kayaking Emergency bag

Virtually every time we go on the water we should carry some basic items of safety equipment.  Unfortunately, I am basically a disorganised person and finding small items of equipment from the chaos of the kayaking boxes was virtually an insurmountable problem.  So the solution was to put together a small emergency bag with all the essential items of kit.  It took about 3 months to source all of the things that I needed and it is true to stay that it still isn’t complete.  I still search diligently in yacht chandlers and outdoor shops for that elusive item of equipment, which may provide the final piece of the jigsaw.
The following items of equipment are contained within my waterproof bag:

 

Signal Mirror:  A small item, which could prove to be useful if you have an accident on a sunny day.  I found mine in a small French yacht chandlers.  It only cost 3.00 €, so it is worth the small financial outlay.
Spare Hatches: 
I carry the Reed hatch covers and have used them twice so they weren’t a waste of money.
Bungee Cords: 
Just one set and you never know when they will be needed.  Ideally for keeping some of the items in the bag wrapped up.
Multi-purpose Tool: 
There is the Leatherman and then there are cheaper ones.  For this emergency bag I have selected a cheaper one, as there is every chance that it will damaged by the seawater.  I paid 7€ for mine at a French DIY store.
Woollen Hat: 
I might swap this for a sun hat during the warmer summer months.
Plastic Sheet: 
Cut from a sparkling water bottle.  The thin plastic is ideal for helping to repair a relatively large hole in the kayak.
Repair Tape: 
Spinnaker tape, electrician’s tape and duck tape.  A selection, which should be able to sort out most needs, including repair kayaks, spray decks and tents.
Epoxy Resin: 
I use a French variety, partly for the challenge of translation, and partly because it is effective.  It will set under water and will repair most materials.
Whistle: 
I have the loudest one that I could find.  The literature makes numerous extravagant claims about decibels etc, all I know is that if I blow it my ears hurt!
Lighter: 
More like a blowtorch than a lighter.  An effective heat source and according to the publicity material it can’t be blown out by the wind.  Useful for a number of reasons.  Just in case the gas runs out I also have a box of waterproof matches.  (I also remove this from the bag before I fly anywhere)
Fire Lighters: 
Just a couple in case it is necessary to light a fire.
Poncho: 
A small poncho, which is ideal if people are cold at lunchtime.
Exposure Bag: 
I don’t have the traditional orange exposure bag but one, which is made of the same material as the well-known space blanket.  The advantage is that it packs up very small.
Spare Food: 
Just a small amount.  I don’t plan on getting stranded for several days in the heart of what is in effect an urban area.  I normally take food, which I am not that keen on so I am not tempted to eat it. 

Money:  Just a small amount, stored in the inevitable film container that is if you can still find one.  Useful for telephones, cafes etc.
Spare Batteries: 
These are for both the GPS and the VHF radio.  A selection of cheaper batteries is better than the more expensive variety; they only have to last a couple of hours.
Strobe:
  Ideal for drawing attention to yourself at night.
Wet Wipes:
  Ideal for all sorts of uses.
First Aid Kit: 
Just a few small items.  Triangular bandage, skin closures, assorted plasters, wound dressing and safety pins.
When I open up the waterproof waist pack it always amazes me that all of the above fits inside such a relatively small container.  What it has enabled me to do is to always carry a basic level of safety equipment.  It can be customized to meet individual needs and because I am always on the look out for another useful item it remains a work in progress.

Ecrehous – a reef north east of Jersey

Located nearly 6 nautical miles north east of Jersey are Les Ecrehous.  Now I might be biased but I consider a visit to this reef one of the finest one day sea kayaking trips possible anywhere.  Last Saturday and Sunday as Storm Brian lashed the Channel Islands it seemed inconceivable that by Wednesday we would be heading out from St Catherine’s for a late October visit.
That’s is just what we were able to do yesterday.  A reasonably early departure from St Catherine’s Breakwater, so us taking advantage of the high water slack to cross the current, which in a couple of hours time would be endeavouring to sweep us sideways.  The tidal flow rates, weren’t going to reach the 5+ knots, that they can do on Springs, but they were still going to have an impact.
In the days of GPS and electronic plotters I am not sure how many people are still going through the process of laying off a course, producing vectors, using Portland Protractors and dividers etc every time they head out.  Certainly as kayakers operating in Channel Island waters it is a process that we have to go through every time we embark on an open crossing.  The chart work had produced a course of 25 degrees and the GPS was just used to monitor our possible drift.
The tide was running swiftly as we paddled around the end of St Catherine’s but the crossing to the Ecrehous seemed remarkably straightforward.  The 6 mile crossing taking 1 hour 20 minutes.  We had been hoping for some autumn sunshine, unfortunately it was a rather grey day.  The real bonus of the of the visit was that we had the reef to ourselves for most of the time that we were there, in complete contrast to a visit on a summer weekend when the reef can feel really crowded.
Heading back to Jersey the tide had a bit more impact on our progress but we still made it back, in plenty of time, for the inevitable coffee at St Catherine’s.

Ecrehous
Playing in the tidal race formed as the water runs over the shingle bank.
Ecrehous
Sheltering from the wind whilst having lunch.
Ecrehous
Looking north across the reef from near the bench.
Ecrehous
Waiting for the tide to drop so that we could walk to the north of the reef.
Ecrehous
Looking back towards Marmotier

Polishing your kayak

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.

Polish

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.

Kayak polish

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.

Kayak Polish

The Nordkapp on a beach in Greenland in 1993, still looking pretty good.

Polish

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!

Contact www.renapur.com for further details.