Thursday, 31 December 2009

Kayaker seeks kayaker

As time passes and I get older, I appeal to you, the wider paddling community to assist me in my quest to find a suitable other half!

A man who is at least 5’10” tall, preferably has blue eyes, is between 29 and 40 and loves kayaking would be ideal.

A liking of cats (black and cute) would be an advantage, as would a sound knowledge of DIY.

The words Avocet, Pintail and Anas Acuta should trigger thoughts of more than just birds and the relative merits of various towing systems should have been duly considered.

A willingness to live on an island with lots of caves is essential……..  Sea kayaking should take precedence over everything else in life.

If you are a potential husband then please get in touch!!!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My first solo paddle!

Hooray!  I just did my first solo trip!  Not that I went very far at all and it nearly didn’t happen…

I have never been solo paddling before, in the main because I live on my own and find it blooming difficult to do anything with my boat without assistance.  Today, I was determined.   I got into the drysuit and I contorted myself to pull the zip.  Then I employed the bathroom door handle.  Knackered, but in!

Then I tried to put the boat on the car.  Out comes some old carpet and I slide her up the back windscreen up to the rack.  Tough but manageable.  Only my garage was built for hobbits and the end of the boat is now stuck under the garage door.  So I pushed it clear.  Now the boat is too far forward on the rack.  ‘Ah ha’ thought I, ‘I’ll just drive forward a bit’.  Put car into gear, begin to move and……… Two thousand pounds of sea kayak flies off the roof and onto the drive.  Much swearing but increased determination.  Out the car.  Boat up bonnet and front windscreen (this is much easier it transpires).  Still too far forward (you can see where this is going).  Back into car, attempt to pull forward a little, whoosh….. sea kayak heads down bonnet again.  MORE SWEARING!  This time, I move it out of the way and try to drive up the drive a little.  The car doesn’t seem to be moving very much.  Get out.  Boat back on.  More or less in the right place now so garage door is shut and straps fastened.  Get in car.  Put car in gear.  Car does not move.  Change gear.  Car still does not move.  Get out of car.  There is a lot of smoke coming from the wheels….. Take mats out of car, place under wheels, get in car, put car into gear, car still does not move.  Engine having a hissy fit.  Car cannot get up icy drive! Thwarted before I even began!IMGP0479 Unhappy Northern Kayaker with Jimmy the Micra stuck in drive! Thank you to the coal bunker for taking the photo!

So now I have the gear in the car, the boat on the roof and me in a drysuit but I can’t go anywhere!  I was not a happy bunny.

So I relayed my distress to a paddling pal who was working today and he offered to come and push!  So we scrapped and hacked at the now rather thick ice covering the drive and gave it another go.  Wheels spinning, engine roaring, car not moving…..  So I was given a lesson in gently raising my clutch and very, very slowly the car inched his way up the hill.  That was the first hurdle complete.

I made my way to Scapa, familiar territory and an onshore wind.  Now I have to get the boat to the water.  Out comes the carpet and the boat is gently slid onto the bonnet and off the car.  Then the bit I hate, carrying the blooming thing.  It’s heavy and awkward!  And I’m not that weak!  But I got to the water’s edge.  Then I realised something was missing and had to go home for my BA.  Finally by 1.30pm I was on the water, only an hour and a half late!IMGP0482 Boat at Scapa

By this point, of course, the wind had increased a little, F4 gusting F5 on the top of the Harbours’ building, but it was onshore and there were loads of get outs.  We don’t really get swell in the Flow but we do get short sharp wind chop and this was beginning to build as I headed away from the shelter of the pier.IMGP0487 Broody Orkney skies over the Flow

Over the first wave and the grin began to appear – this is what it’s all about!

Although I was on my own today, I had a new paddling friend with me.  Harry the Helmsman who turned up in the post a few weeks ago.  He can never replace Oscar but at least he’s dressed for the part!


Harry at the helm. 

I set off towards Hemp Stack, into the wind but knowing I’d have an easy ride home.  The skies were brooding and beautiful and the water interesting.IMGP0490 Heading towards Hemp Stack

The wind increased as Hemp Stack finally came into view but I was determined to get there.  Finally, I was level with it and turned to land on the handy pebble beach at its base.IMGP0503

Harry poses at Hemp StackIMGP0499

The Flow from Hemp Stack

After a few minutes rest, I decided to head back.  Much consideration was given to the launch technique, but finally I got away OK.  (The first attempt wasn’t a success!).  Now I was in a following sea with the wind behind me.IMGP0510 Wideford Hill from Scapa Bay

I had loads of fun trying to surf the waves but they were a bit confused so it was hard to get a good one.  I did manage one brilliant ride though and that had me heading out to the deeper water for some more!  The best waves were just before the pier so I had a play there before cutting back behind it and into shelter.  IMGP0513 Back at Scapa

So now I had to get the boat out of the water and on to the car.  Out comes the carpet, boat is manhandled carried to car, carpet placed on bonnet, boat slid onto roof……  Back at the ranch, carpet comes out, boat slid off, manhandled to garage (I am never driving down the drive again!), garage door shut.  Boat done!  But I’m still in that yellow sack.  String tied to door handle (Living room this time), toggle hooked through string, after a bit of a fight, zip loosens and Northern Kayaker is free!  Thank goodness for that!

So that is the rather cumbersome tale of my very short first solo voyage.  The kayaking was the easy part, I’m far more impressed that I got my drysuit on and off and the boat to the water and home again all on my own!

View Untitled in a larger map

291209Not very far at all- my GPS track of the trip

Monday, 28 December 2009

Towline Tales

Since I got my towline earlier this year, it has become a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. 


Ocean pro towline

Firstly, I decided that it was too difficult to repack so I took some scissors and my sewing machine to it, cut a large slit in the bag and made another velcro opening. 

IMGP0472 Towline entrails

Then I decided I didn’t like the plastic carabiner and thought I would replace it with a stainless steel one.  I wanted a system where the crab would be securely attached to the towline and could not slip off when it was opened.  Due to an apparent ineptitude with Google to find anything suitable, I ended up with a pair of stainless steel crabs which were perfect in design, but not in weight, given that they are intended to hang chainsaws from!  I also did not like the screwgate, even though I always left it open.IMGP0471 Industrial crab

Although this new system worked, it did constitute some kind of offensive weapon and a rethink was required.

A more fruitful search of the internet lead me to Scuba Kit who appear to be part of Beaver Sports in Yorkshire.  They have an excellent range of stainless steel carabiners for diving in a selection of sizes.  I went for the 100mm size with eyelet as this seemed to fit my requirements.IMGP0474 Crabs with eyelet

The two crabs were waiting for me when I got home this evening and have now been attached to the towline. IMGP0475 IMGP0476 IMGP0477Tidy towline

I am looking forward to testing this system out before considering any further adaptations.

While I was away, the others got out a few times for a paddle, of course, now that I am home and desperate to join them, the weather has immediately deteriorated.  C’est la vie!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Messing about on the Ness

As part of my Level 2 coaching, I have to be able to coach in an open boat as well as my trusty sea kayak.  Getting the necessary experience to do this is not always easy.  Fortunately for me, I have happened upon several people who are in a similar situation so today my friends from Strathpeffer and I went into Inverness for a muck about  in canoes around the canal basin.

As you may have gathered, recently it has been rather cold around here and we were stuck with a bit of a problem when we arrived at Muirtown….IMGP0455 There is water under there, honest

A plan B was duly formed and we made our way to the ‘Banana’ Bridge over the River Ness.  Here there are lots of little islands, some very small rapids and some sheltered water.

We started the day with a bit of ferrygliding back and forth across the river to get our sea boater selves back into the swing of these funny one bladed craft.  We then headed down river a little way, breaking out into a sheltered area where we could practice our skills.IMGP0463 Inside and outside pivot turns

There were lots of different streams around the island here and we found an area under a small bridge maybe 8m across where we could safely practise our ferrygliding again.  This time we thought we’d try a spot in reverse which was fun but a little frustrating!  After a while, the light began to fade so we made our way about 500m down stream.  Where another stream met the main channel, we played around with ferrygliding the rougher water.  I really enjoyed that!

Landing after a couple of hours (in the dark!), we all thought we’d had a productive afternoon and of course, had managed to get a few more open boat hours under our belts to add to those logbooks.  I may be converted yet…….IMGP0470 Jimmy the Super Micra carries 16’ canoe!

Oh and before I forget – of course my Santa hat made another appearance!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Chanonry Sunshine

Through my paddling adventures, I have had the opportunity to meet and make friends with many lovely people and so today I went paddling with a couple of them who live near the parental abode.
IMGP0433 Friends in front of a brooding sky

They were kind enough to lend me a boat, thus giving me a chance to try something different.  There had been talk of use of my very, very favourite type of kayak, a speedy(!) Perception Carolina but due to large spraydeck issues, I was lent a Valley Aquanaut LV instead.  What a shame!  (Sorry Carolina owners – I jest).
Santa in a big boat!

The Aquanaut LV is a good foot longer than my own Avocet at 17’1”.  Despite its length, it was still a really nice fit, a little higher above the hips perhaps, but excellent connectivity still.  I have struggled with some longer boats in the past, but I think the combination of low volume and snug Valley outfitting meant the boat’s length was a definite advantage, rather than a hindrance.  It’d be nice to try something like this again in a stronger wind or bigger seas or perhaps fully loaded for a camping trip.
dip Chanonry Point – It is so bracing!

We set out from Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth where there was a decided chill in the SW breeze.  As we left the point, we saw two MAD people going for a swim (or a paddle at least!).  Thankfully wrapped up in our drysuits and pogies, we made our way from the point over to a red port buoy where we could see the 2 knots of tide flowing through the firth.  We then headed along the coast, taking the opportunity for a little rock hopping along the way.
IMGP0434The tide flows past the port can IMGP0436The coastline on a sunny winter’s day IMGP0438Neil rockhops

We landed on a small beach for a spot of lunch but didn’t hang around too long since despite the sun, there was a real chill in the air and our hands were soon cold.  We decided that we’d just head back along the coast towards Rosemarkie.  There was further opportunity for a brief rockhop, before pausing at the beach.  We then headed back across to the lighthouse as the poorer weather began to roll in from the west.  We landed to an audience of camera wielding onlookers and were packed up and on our way before dark.
IMGP0445Coastline by Rosemarkie
IMGP0454Eleanor lands as the sun begins to setchanonry My best guess at our route – my E-trex is at home! (Or is it!!!)

I decided to try out my pogies today and found them to be excellent in such a bitter breeze.  They were a little tricky to get on and teeth regularly had to be employed to pull on the left one.  There was a tiny bit of seepage into the pogie from the shaft but nothing unpleasant and this probably helped to keep my hands at a nice temperature!  I found if I got most of my hand through the top of the fleece lining, my fingers could move easily around the paddle shaft inside the pogie, the pogie itself not being restrictive at all.  They also seemed very warm very quickly, even after putting them on after lunch.  I think these have to get a 9 out of 10!
IMGP0440Palm River Tec Pogies lying out to dry

Will this be the last appearance of my awful famous hat?  Is this really the last paddle of 2009?  Your guess is as good as mine! 
IMGP0446And I told my friend his hats were silly…..

Friday, 25 December 2009

Yule (b)log

Happy Christmas everyone!  I hope Santa was good to you.

I’m waiting for my Christmas dinner at the moment and staying a safe distance from the kitchen – it appears to be safer that way.

Today, it is a glorious sunny day in the Highlands of Scotland with barely a breath of wind.  Oh to be kayaking!!  The weather at home in Orkney also looks pretty good and I hope someone is taking advantage of it.  I hope it lasts until New Year so I can get out then too.


Looking out from the garden this morning

It’s really lovely here at the moment, even to be sat indoors looking out.  Tomorrow there are plans to get out on the water, to Chanonary Point to see the dolphins.  The forecast currently suggests a light Sou’westerly, cold, but sunny  - I hope it stays that good.


Snug toes in my bargain boots!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Through Fresh Eyes

Under a degree of sufferance due to bad weather and general inertia, today I finally made the annual pilgrimage to the parental home for Christmas.  It’s not that I didn’t want to go but I was quite happy where I was!

Anyway, upon arrival at Stromness, where, despite my decided dithering, I was second in the ferry queue, it was a lovely, lovely day.  For the first time in ages, I was drawn out of the car to look at and photograph the surroundings.  I felt like a tourist!  Maybe it was the snow, maybe it was my mood but there was something special about today.
Boats berthed in Stromness Harbour with snow covered Hoy behind
The Hamnavoe arrives from Scrabster
Winter light on Brinkies Brae
The boat made its way out of Stromness and through Hoy Sound which again got me thinking of Things I should be doing 2010.  I have paddled across Hoy Sound, but never from Stromness to the west coast.  From the boat I got a great view of The best paddle ever and fantastic looking 100m cliffs of Black Craig.  Further north I could see Yesnaby which looked miniscule in comparison.  I will paddle there next year!
Black Craig, Billia Croo energy testing zone is to the right
Looking back through Hoy Sound to Ward Hill
Mackayak gave me a lovely Xmas present of a framed picture of Yesnaby, perfectly matched to the colour scheme of my recently (and still not finished) decorated bedroom.  I think she knew I would look at it every morning and every night just yearning to be down there  amongst the swell.
Beautiful picture of Yesnaby
Busy trying to take pictures of The best paddle ever in an increasing northerly swell, I got a bit of a shock when I looked to the other side of the boat and saw Hoy looming above me.  This is of course Quite Possibly an Even Better Best Paddle Ever and is somewhere I would love to go but which is always intimidating.  Maybe it’s because going there means commitment.  Maybe it’s the stories you hear of the tides and sea of the area.  Maybe it’s the thought of the highest cliffs in Britain.  Maybe it won’t be next year, but one day I will paddle along that marvellous coastline.
Looking past St John’s Head to the Old Man of HoyIMGP0362
St John’s Head
The Old Man of Hoy in low winter sun
Upon arrival at Scrabster, it was on to the part of the journey I didn’t want to do, the drive to Inverness.  I have driven further I know, but in my mind it gets further and further away every time I have to do it.  The weather in the highlands was as wintery as Orkney, if not more so and I was worried whether the roads would be OK.  As it was, apart from a lot of slush and a few slidey bits, all was fine.

Thick snow at the parental home

Now all I have to do is get back to Orkney again……

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Plans afoot

It's not even Christmas yet, never mind New Year but already a list of Things I Should Be Doing 2010 is forming.  This is slightly thwarted by the You only have 15 days of holiday left problem.

The year planner (which hides that awful vinyl wallpaper)

So what's on the cards?

February- Visiting Brittany for best friend's 30th birthday and not planning any kayaking at all, oh no, would I do that?  Would I email these guys in bad french in order to fulfil my 'if it has sea I must paddle on it' aims? 

Brittany coastline (Northern Kayaker begins to salivate!)

April - 4* training at Skyak.  Oh dear!

More of this I think!

June - Level 2 assessment at Glenmore Lodge (ha!).  If I can ever get through the paper work.

More practice at coaching needed!

July - Shetland Sea Kayaking Symposium which I would not miss this for the world!

Fine Shetland paddling

       - My own 30th birthday, everyone is invited to Westray and I'm going kayaking!

Scaun Arch, north coast of Westray, I will paddle it yet!

But, I think in order to fulfil all these ambitions, several things need to happen:

1) I land a dream job that involves half as much work for twice the money
2) I win the lottery and am free to be both rich and lazy
3) I find a rich husband (actually any husband would do!) who is willing to indulge my kayaking whims.
4) In a bizarre act, someone decides to pay me to go paddling......

Somehow, I don't think any of these pigs are going to fly.  Back to the drawing board then......