Thursday, 17 December 2009

And as another year passes by....

Well, it's nearly the end of 2009 and good paddling weather is currently in short supply (well apart from today but today, of course, is a school day...). The weather for the weekend is still in the balance, the forecast for Saturday has got worse, snow and winds of F7 to F9, while Sunday may have sun and snow showers, with winds of F5 decreasing.

Current Forecast

So, with the opportunities to get out and about become increasingly limited and after a casual glance at my slideshow, it struck me that I have been many places and done many things this year so perhaps it was time to take stock and review.

The year started with a New Year's day paddle in the Moray Firth with Inverness Canoe Club. My family live down there and I read about their planned trip on the club forum so asked if I could come along. Being lovely welcoming people, they said yes and even lent me a boat! We just went east from North Kessock, under the bridge and up the coast a little way before stopping for some lunch beyond Kilmuir. It was REALLY cold and I got to wear my Lomo drysuit (bought for Xmas by me for me!) for the first of many times this year. It was great to paddle somewhere new, especially as the scenery is very different from here.

Anne and Eleanor


Kessock Bridge, Inverness

The next paddle of the year was back home on the 4th of January.  We had another cold but lovely paddle out to Roseness, there were lots of yellow suits, yellow boats and woolly hats in evidence.

Mary and Jackie at Roseness (PJF)

And then.....  and then I had to go to Easter Island for 5 weeks with my work.  It was hot, humid and surrounded by sea.... but, I didn't have a boat!  Imagine, avid sea kayaker, stranded on island in the middle of the biggest ocean in the world.  There were almost tears at times!  It was a brilliant experience to go and the archaeology was amazing.  There are features which are postulated 'canoe ramps' and I think they really could be.  There were some places where the swell rocketed in but the 'ahu' had been built in such a way that if you looked with the eye of the kayaker, you could spot a safe route out and in through the rocks, even when conditions were pretty large.  If I ever go back, I've vowed that I will do a circumnavigation!

Moto Nui from Orongo (note the petroglyphs carved on the rocks)

Back home, it was now late February and my new boat arrived from Stirling Canoes  after I sent the wonderous McAdie and Reeve to go and get it.  Being removers, they treated it with incredible care and it arrived safely for me to collect from the depot.

All wrapped up!  A huge package of boat, paddle and paddling kit

The first trip for the boat was from Craigiefield to Inganess Bay.  6 of us got out on what transpired to be a beatifully calm day, much nicer than had been forecast.  This wasn't a long, adventurous or challenging paddle, but after so long away and with the new boat, it was just what I needed. 
Upon arrival at Inganess - I think I like it!

At the very end of March, we were very lucky to have Gordon Brown come up to see us to give us a 3* assessment and some 4* training.  When, on the first day, he asked where he could find a F3, I am afraid we all laughed!  We managed to find a sheltered spot behind a cliff but it was easily a F6 that day.  At one point, I fell in (in my usual fashion) but was eskimo rescued.  I foolishly said that I hadn't rolled my sea boat yet and was immediately requested to demonstrate the point!

Mackayak shows off her skills

The following day was equally windy, but we played in the wind at Scapa Pier, dashing in and out to practice before resting in the shelter.

Gordon and Mackayak in the wind and waves off Scapa Pier

At the end of the session, we did some rolling and in the presence of Gordon - I rolled my boat for the first time!  Yeay!!  I still think that piece of water may be blessed.....We spent the next couple of days working on Tidal Planning and Coastal Navigation in the mornings and getting out in the afternoons.  We had a great session on boat balancing and self rescues and I even managed a re-entry and roll - double yeay!!!

I did it! 

We went out to Eynhallow sound and practiced our leadership skills and incident management in the tidal flow, my favourite part was capsizing for no reason and rapidly swimming away from my boat....

Despite my best efforts, I was swiftly rescued - Oscar (in my pocket) remained safe and well

The final day with Gordon was spent at Roseness where it was BIG!  We practiced all sorts of skills and tried to increase our confidence in bigger conditions.  I think the words needed to describe the experience are comfort zone, edge of and pant wetting but I really would like to do it again!  Surfing down a wave, realising I couldn't avoid the rock and being dumped on and capsized as the water broke over it was just thrilling!  One of the best kayaking days of the year I'd say.

Can you find Douglas in this picture?

Come mid April offical club trips began again with regular paddles on Tuesdays and Sundays and whenever the weather allowed.  There were loads of good trips too numerous to mention but a highlight had to be my first trip to the infamous Gloup in Deerness.  It's an amazing collapsed cave with interesting geology and a cave behind a waterfall at the back.

Douglas, with help from Mackayak and I, also started training nights in April and we had a lovely group of enthusiastic beginners who worked hard throughout the summer.

Some of the coaches and club members at the Monday night session 

Soon it was the end of May and time for the Scottish Sea Kayaking Symposium in Skye so on route, I caught up with a friend who was down on holiday and went for a short camping trip near Kyle.  We had ambitious plans, but upon discovering it was blowing something of a hoolie, we curtailed our trip and pitched camp beneath the railway in what transpired to be a bit of a midge infested bog!

Well, it might not have been the best spot....

We headed back the next day, through the tidal islands and skerries and over to the Skye Bridge, passing underneath and landing at Kyleakin for the most expensive piece of cake in the world.  I didn't feel guilty about dripping on their floor after that!  We scooted back over to Kyle, and as we did so, I could see all the demonstration kayaks heading over the bridge to the symposium.  We landed at the old ferry slip - I remember rushing for the Calmac boat and was sad that it no longer runs.

Approaching the Skye Bridge
Then it was off to the Scottish Sea Kayaking Symposium where I found myself camped in yet another bog.  The water came down from the sky and up from the ground, until I reached the point of changing from thermals under dry suit to thermals under waterproofs and visa versa, as any attempt at anything more ended in a damp, futile mess!

The first day I chose to paddle from Isle Ornsay to Kyleakin as I had never been through Kylerea.  It was a long paddle and the rain just seemed to fall constantly!  We made a couple of stops on route, firstly on the Sandaig Islands, where Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water is set and then on the beach at Glen Elg.

Oscar poses on Sandaig

Passing through Kylerhea was enjoyable but careful planning by the leaders meant the tide was a nice manageable speed and there were no nasty shocks!  Finally, turning the corner to head to Kyleakin had us head straight into a good F5 head wind for about 3nm.  This was HARD work and by this point everyone was dripping wet!

The following day it was back to Kylerhea for a Paddling in the Tide session with Jas Hepburn - it was still windy .  We practiced in the various eddies for a time, doing lots of breaking in and breaking out - I loved this, but breaking in while paddling backwards was too much for my little brain and with my edges all wrong, I fell in!  After a failed roll, I was eskimoed safely to have another few goes.  We then crossed the straight a few times experiencing the changing character of the flow and eddies as we did so - great fun!

Monday was an excellent turning session with Mike McClure in the morning, followed by self rescues with Gordon in the afternoon.

Due to limited holidays, I only managed to stay for one day of the extended event, but had a great trip from Kilmaluig to Staffin slip, exploring all the caves and being blown along by the wind.

The cliffs of north east Skye

The rest of June saw lots more Orkney trips, with lots of time spent in and around South Ronaldsay.  I think Windwick to Newark in South Ron, is probably one of my favourite bits of coastline anywhere, I just wish it were a little longer!  I, as ever, forgot my camera, but luckily Mackayak was on hand to document the experience.

The end of June saw the arrival of some infeasibly good weather so a camping trip to Rousay was duly planned.  The idea was to paddle from the mainland to the island, watch the raft race, camp for the night and return on the Sunday.

5 of us set out from Tingwall in two parties because someone (ahem) had forgotten their tent poles....  We landed at the pier, conveniently near the pub and had a few drinks in the sunshine as we watched the raft race to Wyre and back.  Nick and Jenni then headed home, before the remaining three paddled along the Rousay cost to a field provided by a friend.  We then walked back to the pub and had a good evening before trundling off to bed at about 2am.

Ansgar and Angus head home

The paddle back was equally nice, although the wind was a little stronger and we headed straight across to Aikerness this time, before following the mainland coast to Tingwall.  We went right into Woodwick on route which has one of the few woodlands in Orkney.  It was beautiful in the sun.

Woodwick Burn

There then came the week of 'The Best Paddles Ever'.  We started on Tuesday with a foggy but warm trip from Holm Village (St Mary's) to Scapa but because I was working at Skaill Bay, I spent most of my days staring out at a spookily calm Atlantic and knew I had to get out there!  Wednesday was a trip from Skaill to Yesnaby and return, visiting some absolutely awe inspiring cliffs and caves.

There is a kayaker in there!  The scale of this cave is indescribable

The trip was undertaken with a couple of others, with Mackayak joining us for a section - her account is here.

Thursday was still beautiful weather and there was still no swell on the West coast at all.  Plans were made, boats were packed and another section of the west coast from Birsay to Skaill was undertaken.  This was again a really memorable trip, not least because of landing at 11pm just as twighlight began to fall.  My favourite part of this trip was sheltering from the rain underneath Marwick Head - I couldn't believe how calm the water was!

Crossing Birsay Bay

Sheltering from the rain at Marwick Head
The infeasibly good whether just kept continuing but I had promised to work on Rousay over the weekend.  I nearly cried when the others decided to undertake THE Best Paddle Ever, from Skaill to Warebeth near Stromness.  However, this does mean I have Warebath to Yesnaby still to visit, leaving one section of glorious coastline ripe for future exploration.

July also offered us the chance to try out another sort of paddle craft during the visit of Chris Cooper and his huge canoe.  The Monday night training group had a quick trip around Kirkwall Bay and the following weekend we escorted the fine vessel into Holm.

Aboard Spirit Dancer

Spirit Dancer on route to Holm

A sad event occurred in July with the premanture departure of my paddling buddy Oscar T.P. Monk.  Mackayak wrote this fine tribute.  I have yet to find another of his standing.

Oscar The Paddling Monk

The end of July saw another camping trip with 3 of us heading up to Westray in a plumbers van.  Saturday saw beautiful sunshine and we had a good trip from Pierowall to Rapness.  We saw puffins at the Castle O'Burrian and experienced some interesting swell as we travelled further south.  Rounding the southern tip of Westray we happened upon a beautiful beach where we rested for a while in the sun. 
Puffins on the Castle of Burrian, Westray

Carribbean Westray

August was an exciting month in paddle land with two exciting events happening.  Firstly there was the annual Shetland Canoe Club Unst weekend which saw 5 of us head up to Unst for a weekend paddling with our Shetland pals.  There were loads of folk there which meant we could all do what we fancied doing and make new friends in the process.  My favourite trip was from Lundawick to Burrafirth, passing very close to Muckle Flugga but unfortunately not being able to visit it.

Paddlers pass Muckle Flugga

Mackayak recounted some of her Shetland experiences in her blog. 

OK, so I sent them a press release....

The following weekend was time for our own event, Paddle Orkney 09.  Organised in the main by a certain blogging paddler and her blogging paddler friend, it was OSKAs first foray into the world of 'paddling events'.  Although the weather wasn't great, we had Nige Robinson from Wales and Donald Thomson from Aberdeen, both Level 5 coaches, join us for the weekend.  The 43 participants made good use of the coached sessions on offer, while others partook in a variety of paddles across the island.  I think everyone had a good time but I was too busy worrying to be certain!  You can read more about PO09 on the OSKA website and of course on the blog of the uber co organiser.

A highlight of the event was Nancy's fabulous food!
One of our Northern Irish visitors also produced this video.

August continued with me having a rest for at least a weekend, before getting out on a couple more trips.  The end of the month saw another visitor as our LCO Kristian Cooper got RCO Steve MacKinnon up to give OSKA and KKC members a Level 1 coaching course.  The first weekend involved the FSRT, together with some skills sessions in open boats and various kayaks.

Grace was never my strong point

By September the evenings were definitely getting shorter meaning there was less chance to get out during the week.  With two weekends taken up by the coaching course, there was little chance to get out, especially since I also went to Paris to give a paper about our work on Easter Island earlier in the year.

This was also the month in which Mackayak broke her ankle but she bravely soldiered on and completed Level 1 none the less.  OSKA now had 4 members with coaching qualifications, while Dennis completed his award in November.  Well done all!

Lesley in the hot seat

The weather in October was nothing less than crap, but we did manage two excellent paddles during the month.  The first saw us head over to Shapinsay for cake and coffee at the Smiddy at the suggestion of Jackie who even brought a change of clothes for entering the cafe!  With the tide in the String as it was, we headed first east along the mainland coast before crossing over to Helliar Holm and into Shapinsay village.  Members of both KKC and OSKA were out together which is always great to see.  Jackie bought the cake so I must say thank you to him!

Peter, Johnny, Dennis, Kate, Ansgar and Jackie enjoy a welcome treat

Kate and Peter head for home

Halloween saw more lovely weather so we decided on a circumnavigation of Gairsay.  My previous visit in high winds against spring tide was rather interesting so it was nice to see how different conditions can make a place.  One of our paddling buddies was up so it was nice trip to take him on too.  The weather remained lovely throughout and we had fun in the tide off the south of the island.

Ansgar and Nick play in the tide off Hen of Gairsay

Unfortunately for our visitor, he managed to crash his car on the way home but this did at least mean he had to come and visit us again to collect his boat!

November saw the start of the pool sessions with the new Level 1 coaches looking after the beginners group.  Mackayak, Katy and I were all apprehensive to begin with but slowly we got into our stride and really enjoyed the sessions.

A unseasonal lull in the weather saw us undertake a long trip from Houton on the mainland to Lyness on Hoy and back, and the following day taking our returning visitor from Sandwick to St Margaret's Hope.

Peter passes Fara on a glassy Scapa Flow

The fleet at St Margaret's Hope

Later in the month I went off to the mainland for some open canoeing and my UKCC Level 2 caoch training course at Glenmore Lodge. 

 Canoeing on Loch Faskally

Loch Morlich on a cold December day

Back home from my travels, it was straight into the last coached session of the year where I was keen to use all I had learned at Glenmore.  It was great to see how much everyone had progressed over the 6 sessions.  Mackayak was also back in a boat - recovery now well in progress.

Eileen in the pool

And with our trip to Deerness last week and Sunday night at the pool, we're right bang up to date.  I hope there will be at least one more paddle this year.  I've still got my fingers crossed for Sunday and of course for New Year's Eve.

I sometimes feel that I haven't done anything this year, but sitting here and writing it all down reminds me of exactly what I did achieve.  There were some wonderful trips, great people, fantastic experiences and memories that will stick with me for a long time yet.

So, cheers to 2009 and I hope 2010 is even better!



  1. yeah the blogging sure helps put the years accomplishments into perspective. Have enjoyed reading thus far, and am slightly jealous of the plus Celsius numbers and liquid H2O!

    Love seeing pictures from places I would love to see someday.


  2. Thanks Abduk.

    We are just as jealous of your pictures from Canada, the minus numbers and the snow and ice! I have never been to Canada but would love to go.

  3. Cheer's
    The winter has it charm, cold crisp nights with wolfs howling is a beautiful thing.

    but man do I miss kayaking!

    mere months...mere