Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Going backwards

Tuesday.  Another pool session.

With The Shalder at the menders I was again in a stand-in craft, this time the ‘Lava’ Avocet.  The keeper of voles (and lover of tank tape) had customised it so that it wouldn’t get muddled up with all the other Lava Avocets (of which we have none)….

IMGP0245 Customisation

The session was as busy as ever and I was waiting a while for a shot.  Then I was told that if I was just rolling at the deep end, I wouldn’t count as another boat. More of a fixture.  Or perhaps a charted obstruction.

Mackayak appeared in her civvies and was handed the camera.  We looked at the roll on the left and we looked at the roll on the right. The right is rubbish.  I asked the surfing vet and the friend with gills to help me with it in Shetland and on that particular day it seemed fine, however, at the last few sessions, it has been no good at all.  Apart from that day in Eynhallow Sound when it was perfect.  Rolling.  A bizarre art.

Rolling at Scapa February 2010

Mackayak observed and decided my blade angle was wrong and that my sweep wasn’t enough of a sweep.  She decided that some video analysis was required.  Later, we decided that my body movement wasn’t the same on the right as on the left.  She came up with a plan: roll on the left and replicate on the right.  I won’t subject you to the 20 videos taken, but here’s one to show the difference between left and right.  I know my head is all over the place but by this point I was at least coming up, which was better than I was doing at the beginning of the evening.

Left, right, left, right, left, right

I suppose I should explain all the paraphernalia.  Why would you need a towline and VHF radio in a swimming pool?  Well you wouldn’t, but since it is cold outside, I am trying my best to replicate what I would wear outside inside.  Having all this gubbins about your person makes more of a difference to rolling than you might think so I am trying to learn to do everything I need to do with all the stuff in my pockets.  That VHF doesn’t work anyway so it might as well be put to some use. 

Having worked for a while on rolls, it was time to move on to something else.  This time, re-entry and roll.  It is always my roll that lets me down with this so I am trying to discipline myself to get the roll right, even if that means staying in the water a few seconds longer.  I know I can do it and I know I can do it well, I just need to make it bombproof!

Trying to apply some yoga calm

Moving on to self-rescues proved ok and on the side of the pool Mackayak had found a new game.  Timing me.  Over the coming weeks I shall have to try to get both slicker, quicker and bombproof on all three skills.  Hmmmmm.

Having taken a break from it, we then moved back onto rolling.  Mackayak’s comments had obviously sunk in.  I tried really hard to think about what I do on the left and then tried to do the same on the right.  I swept faster and wider and I really tried to move my torso with the paddle.  The last roll felt really good.  Mackayak said ‘stop’.  So I did.

IMGP0265 It works!

IMGP0267 Mackayak and Hairyaker coaching

At the end of the session, as Hairyaker, the keeper of voles and I loaded boats and kit into his van, I asked Hairyaker if I could borrow the Lava boat until The Shalder is fixed.  ‘Yes’, he said.  ‘As long as you promise not to pin it in the hole through Yesnaby Castle….’.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Having a rest

The previous two Sundays have been hectic, so this week I decided I’d have a bit of a rest.  The keeper of voles phoned me the other day (to much grumbling as I had already gone to bed) and asked if I wanted to come to a lunchtime sea boat pool session so I decided I’d give a paddle a miss today and just do that instead.  Of course, I couldn’t miss climbing and it was the first week of the new block of OSKA pool sessions this evening.  Oh well, a lie in until at least 10.30am!

After my day out on Hoy yesterday, I thought this was a well deserved rest but my plan was foiled when Hairyaker texted at about 9pm to say that he was going out for a surf this morning. 2 to 3 metres he said.  Light winds said the forecast.  Surf boat in the garage….  Oh bugger…

IMGP0224 Packed for my day

I hauled myself out of bed this morning, my hips and knees aching from yesterday, and was all packed and ready for the day ahead by the back of 8.  I got to Skaill at about 9am to see that Hairyaker was already on the water.  Well, I thought, I could ask a random stranger (who it later transpired wasn’t random at all) to do up my drysuit or I could learn to do it myself.  I took the latter option and thus opened up a whole world of future solo paddling opportunities (muh huh huh huh…).  The waves were breaking in the centre of the bay which only happens when the surf is big and in a certain direction.  It was a bit of a fight to get the deck on and get out through the surf but I got there in the end.  We started off in the middle of the bay and got in a few good runs but ended up going over to Skaill Bay Right.

IMGP0239ro  Action shot of Hairyaker

There wasn’t much room on the right between where the wave was closing out and where nothing was happening so it was a fine line between catching the wave, missing the wave and being eaten for breakfast.  I caught some good waves but on one particular beast I caught it, surfed it but then got taken out.  I hung on to my paddle and ended up rolling back up without even meaning to, where upon I carried on surfing and got off the back of the wave!  Why does no one have a video camera when you need one?  After a few more runs, a real monster came through.  I was about 5m from Hairyaker who was fine (he either caught it or came off the back), but I got eaten.  After a bit of a hell raising ride, upside down, I sorted myself out and found myself in flat water.  Suspiciously flat water.  I turned round only to see another foaming monster approaching.  ‘Oh no…..’ I thought.  I decided to try and go over the top if it.  It decided to throw me off nose over tail (again – no one had a camera!).  I popped back up but my deck had popped and the boat was half flooded.  I retreated to the beach.

IMGP0241ro  He's in there somewhere

At the beach, struggling with a swamped boat and getting pounded by the surf as I tried to sort myself out, I was assisted by a nice man who helped me empty the boat and with whom I had a nice chat.  He knew how to empty a boat over a knee, he asked about what buoyancy it had, he knew who Hairyaker was and apparently had heard all about my boat from someone I know.  Who was this person?  Quite possibly an Orcadian surf kayak legend…

Back out I went and this time went over the waves in the middle of the bay, which were a bit kinder.  The waves were big enough to drop down the face of, which, in at 3m boat must be pretty big.  Out on the right Hairyaker had apparently surfed a 4m monster backwards (not intentionally).  My last run was grand, until the point where I was hit by some following white water which insisted I was going back to the beach, at high speed.  I clattered up the boulders with some cries of distress.  That was enough fun for one morning!

Our pool session was fine, but I struggled again with my right side rolling.  Hairyaker (who had evidently survived the rest of his morning at Skaill) suggested that my head was the issue and that it was stuck to my left shoulder which ever side I rolled on!  In the end, a bit of visualising was employed and I came up OK.  My re-entries were fine after a bit of practise and I managed a few good self-rescues. 

IMGP0242 Haul that hippo

By this point in the day, I was still hobbling around so was a bit stiff when I got to climbing.  I started off on the evil yellow route, where I was trying to conquer one particular move.  Finally I managed it, only to find that the next move was just as hard…  As ever, my partner ran up and down the wall, as I hauled myself up like a hippo, but I think, overall, even I have improved since we started climbing in November.

I was meant to go to another pool session this evening but after climbing I decided to have a quick nap and woke up 2.5 hours later.  I think my body might be trying to tell me something!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The High Island

Friday was a bit of a wild day so there was no way I was going to paddle across to Hoy on my own.  The wind was gusting westerly about 60mph - too strong for me!

Instead we took the passenger ferry from Stromness to Moaness.  It went to the east and south of Graemsay, which is good because I didn’t fancy going through the tiderace in that weather!  Although folk still headed over to see the film, Dave McLeod himself got stuck in Thurso because the Hamnavoe got a broken window and couldn’t cross the Firth.  The film was really good and it was particularly moving to watch Ed Drummond, who made the first ascent in 1970, return to the island.  If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do so now!  You can get it from Dave’s website here.

The climbing club had arranged for folk to go over and see the film, stay the night in the Hoy Centre and have a day out on the hills today.  Because of the weather, only 5 of us decided to stay overnight and 3 of us had a long walk today (the other 2 were on their mountain bikes).  Hoy is completely different to any other part of Orkney so it is nice to get away from it all over there!

I have only seen the Old Man of Hoy from the ferry so was keen to see it from land, while, having watched the film the night before, I was keen to see St John’s Head too.  It is also the highest sea cliff in Britain so certainly worthy of a visit.  Off we set just before 10am, into the teeth of the wind and rain.  I was confident (ha ha) that the weather would improve as the day went on and that by going the way round we were going, that we would have the wind behind us when on the exposed ridge.

IMGP0137  A peedie bit driech in the glen.

My companions set off at a hell of a speed and I was practically running to keep up!  We were conscious that we had a ferry to catch at 4.30pm so didn’t do much hanging around!  After a couple of hours we made it to the Old Man, where the wind was coming straight off the sea at a horrific speed.  We hunkered down for a few minutes and ate our pieces before setting off again.

IMGP0151The Old Man of Hoy (camera shake due to high wins!)

We carried on towards St John’s Head climbing all the time.  The head is essentially a ridge that has had the end chopped off to give the high cliffs.  Stopping for a breath now and again afforded us some lovely views of the Old Man.  The sun was also beginning to appear.

IMGP0161Looking down on the Old Man

It was too windy to venture out onto St John’s Head when we got there, but it was great to be there and see the highest sea cliff in Britain.  There is a stone that the climbers have carved their initials onto and I would like to see that one day.  As we set off from St John’s Head to go up and over Cuilags, the mist descended rapidly.  A bit of map and compass work was required but by the time we got to the col before the climb up to Cuilags the mist had lifted again and we were afforded a fine view from the top.

IMGP0172 Looking down at Graemsay and Mainland beyond

IMGP0178 Climbing club members on Cuilags

The way down into the glen is really steep and hard on the joints.  I was feeling my age and was a little saddened that I haven’t done more with my life.  To distract myself from the sore hips and knees, I took in the view back down to Rackwick.  It really is a stunning place.

IMGP0180 Looking back towards Rackwick.

IMGP0181 Ward Hill and Sandy Loch

Safely back on the flat, we had time for a sit down at the hostel before making our way to the ferry.  I wasn’t sure what way he was going to go, but he headed up through Burra Sound.  Right through the tiderace.

IMGP0191 Graemsay comes in to Moaness

At the time, I reckoned the tide was on the ebb, and given how low the tide seemed to be, it shouldn’t have been running that fast….  I have just found out that the boat left about 20 minutes before low tide but there was nothing slack about Burra Sound when we went through it!  I’d have liked to have seen it 2 hours earlier (or maybe not!).

IMGP0203 Lovely wave in the tiderace

IMGP0208 Smacking through the waves

We ploughed through the race and at one point I was clinging on for dear life for fear of being thrown over board as we pitched and rolled.  I HAVE to visit Burra Sound in my sea kayak one day!

As we sailed away from Hoy, we were all knackered, but in the end we’d had a lovely day out and the weather was kind in the end.  It’s sometimes easy to forget what you have just 30 minutes away on the ferry.  This summer, I shall have to try to remember more often!

IMGP0192  The sun shines down the glen between Ward Hill and Cuilag

250212cropOur route for the day

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Stunt Double

By a process of elimination and inspection, I have deduced that there must be a hole somewhere in my boat.  The back hatch is not supposed to fill with water at an alarming rate……  Investigations led me to a possible company here who could fix her but at the moment they are not answering their phone.  This means that for the moment, I am on the sea without a boat.  It struck me that I might have to use a different boat for my 4* assessment and that perhaps I should start practising for that eventuality.

Tonight was a KKC pool session and the vole keeper confirmed that he would be bringing some sea boats to the pool and this meant I could practise in a plastic Avocet.

IMGP0122Stand in boat 

I wanted to practise the same things because I want to be able to do them in 4* assessment.  I’m not sure I will succeed  but if I practice as hard as I can, at least I will know I have done my best.  Tonight my re-entry and rolls were poor but I managed a few.

IMGP0124 Re-enter

IMGP0125 Roll (successful despite the awful head position)

After my abject failure at the end of Sunday’s session, I was a little apprehensive about trying a self-rescue in a different boat.  However, it seemed fine and I managed to get back in quickly and effectively.

IMGP0126 Swing that leg…..

IMGP0127 Bum in seat…

IMGP0129 Success!!!

KKC sessions are always very busy so after 20 minutes or so, it was time to get out and let other people get in boats.  I wandered down to the shallow end where most of the coaching in rolling and handrolling takes place and soon found myself coaching one of our younger members to roll.  I like teaching the girls as it is always good to encourage other female paddlers.  I wish I had gone to the canoe club at my school way back in 1992…..  After some hard work from her, we had some very near screw rolls so there is plenty to build on next week.

My butterfly rolls in my sea boat have been unsuccessful since I went to Shetland (I blame the vet) so I thought I’d give them a whirl in a pool boat.  Both sides were no trouble but I think I am rushing the roll too much.  While I was doing this, another coach came over to chat.  He wanted to know why I coached the screw roll upright, rather than with a back deck finish.  That was a very good question.  I suppose it is because I was taught that way and because at that time it was regarded as ‘the right way’ to do things.  The other coach pointed out that teaching a back deck finish relates much better to other things that we do – handrolls, butterfly rolls etc etc etc.  This has got me thinking as I see exactly what he is saying.  I think, at the end of the day, there is no ‘right’ way to roll, as long as you keep yourself and your shoulders safe and it gets you upright!

Unlike my butterfly handrolls at the end of the night….  ah well…. something to work on next week (with Mackayak for help……)

Monday, 20 February 2012

The idiotic adventuring geek

Many people think that professional archaeologists just dig holes for a living, well, I don’t.  By training I am an archaeological geophysicist which means I use lots of machines that go beep and lots of computer programs to make pretty pictures.  When working on ‘proper’ archaeology, I spend my time using CAD, GIS, databases and all sorts of other bits of software, usually also to make pretty pictures (like these images of a topo survey).  This means over the years, I have become just a tiny bit of a computer geek….

Kayakers doing 4* are supposed to have logbooks.  I had lost mine (written in blue black Quink no less) so I asked the friend with gills for a copy of his template in Word.  He happened to mention that he had always thought it would be good as a database……    A database did indeed sound like a mighty fine idea and my little geek tendencies started to fire up and I set to work.  I am now on Version 3.0, having added pages and put the images in as linked files to reduce the DB file size.  At the moment however, I am stuck at how to write the location of the image browsed to to one of the columns of a table.  If anyone out there is a whizz with VB, please let me know.

So essentially, after a discussion with the tall one, deciding at about 8.30am that the weather was far too crap for paddling, I spent all of my Saturday in my PJs, drinking a LOT of tea and making tweaks to the database.  Rock and roll.  Oh and the cat helped himself to the meat meant for my sandwiches (greedy little……..).

logpic   Logbook Version 3.1

On Sunday, the weather seemed a bit better, in that although there was snow on the ground, it wasn’t actually blowing a complete hoolie, so another paddle was planned.  Originally I had wanted to go out and lead a group in 4* conditions but by Sunday there weren’t any.  I gave up on the idea of leading and just went for a paddle.

For a few weeks I have been planning to paddle to Hoy this Friday to go to a talk and film screening with climber Dave MacLeod.  He recently free climbed St John’s Head in Hoy via the Longhope route and made a film about it.

Anyway, no one seems particularly keen to come with me, so I thought it would make a nice twilight solo trip.  Initially I was going to leave from Stromness, but even I am not stupid enough to cross an 8kn tiderace, on my own, in the dark, at springs, so  instead I am going to leave from Houton and cross the Flow to Moaness.  Because I am going to go on my own, I needed to find a way to deal with my boat on my own….  On Sunday, while waiting for the tall one and the surfer, I thought I’d try to get the boats off the van in preparation for their arrival just to see if I could.  It turns out I can.  And it turns out the way not to do this is to take the back end off first.  Phyllis DID NOT like this method……

IMGP0068  “My ear hurts” said Phyllis Van

Having got ourselves organised, we set off from Dingieshowe on a pretty flat sea, although there was a bit more swell about than it initially seemed.  We made our way down the coast exploring along the way, trying to remember where the infamous Y-Cave actually was.  Eventually I found it and found that the entrance to the leg of the Y offered an opportunity to play on the swell.

IMGP0074  Inside the Y-cave

We carried, mostly in sunshine but with the odd snow shower too.


After a spot of luncheon and tea, we carried on towards Roseness, realising that we were actually short of time to make our destination in South Ronaldsay at 1pm.  At Roseness I spotted a gap.  It was a bit of a gnarly gap but I reckoned it was passable with care on a smaller set when it filled.  Well, I got half way through when the water left.  My boat dropped into a hole where the water had been but now wasn’t (which was actually quite fun).  The surge came in from the left and I braced and stayed up (still fun) but then, another wave took me out (not fun).  Tried to roll but couldn’t, tried to roll again but realised there was a cliff in the way (really not fun).  Hmmmmm  I thought.  I wasn’t entirely sure where the handle to my spraydeck was, especially with very cold hands but I found it and exited the boat forthwith.  I popped up and found I was under a rock ledge in a sort of mini cave.  Hmm I thought, this could get sticky.  The tall one shouted at me to ‘get out of there’.  I assure you I had every intention to do so, at that moment, however, another wave came in and pushed me backwards.  Because I was under the rock ledge I couldn’t rise up with the swell and was under water for a couple of seconds.  That was pretty scary.  The tall one continued to shout instruction to swim out to him and abandon kit.  However, because I was trying to swim against the surge, no matter what I did, I seemed to get pushed backwards.  He said ‘leave the boat and swim’.  I assure you I had and I was!  Eventually, I managed to get myself to the side of the gap where there was a rock.  I clung on and made away along to a point I could climb out.  So at least I was OK.

The tall one then jumped out of his boat and swam to rock I was on.  The words “GORDON BROWN DVD, VOLUME 2!” were shouted like a war cry…. He then got himself into the gap and swam out with my boat on a towline.  With it now in calm waters, I was instructed to swim to it to be x rescued by the surfer.  I didn’t really want to get back in the water but I did as I was told and was safely reunited with my craft.

IMGP0099 Shalder gets an empty

My paddle was at this point still in the gap getting a good pounding.  I love that paddle, but I love my friends more, so I could have lived without it.  However, as the tall one is very kind, he decided he would retrieve that too.  Unfortunately, he timed this with a bigger set and like me, struggled to swim against the surge.  Via the rock clambering method, he made is way out again and was soon back in his boat.  The surfer had also been watching Gordon Brown Volume 2 and was very good at instructing us to heel hook and roll!

IMGP0103 My loveliest, lovely, lovely friend who rescued my lovely paddle which I dearly love.  Thank you!!

So, what did we learn from that experience?  My main thought is that we could have improvised a throwline of some sort so that no one but me had to be in the gap.  I suppose I could have attached my towline to the boat, the tall one could have got an end of his to me and I could have been towed out with both of them remaining in safe water or on a rock.  We could have left behind the boat and we could certainly have left behind the paddle.  We probably all should have had towlines (we had 2 between 3) and we certainly should all have had radios. And perhaps I shouldn’t piss about quite the way I do….. Maybe.

IMGP0107 Rolling

After all that excitement, we decided to return to Dingiehowe rather than continue to South Ronaldsay.  I was paddling along and seemed to be struggling to keep up.  At Dingieshowe we had a little bit of wet practice, with the non drysuited surfer doing some rolls and me doing the usual routine of roll, re-enter and self-rescue.  My roll was OK, my re-enter took a few goes and I did my self-rescue OK.  Then it started to snow, so we decided to go home.

IMGP0108 The snow falls on Dingieshowe

After a quick bite to eat, it was time for climbing.  I felt like I had improved a little, perhaps because I had had a good work out in the sea earlier!

IMGP0111 Good turn out at the wall

Later, it was time for a sea boat pool session.  I wanted to practice what I always practice but this time took in my tow line to practice doing self-rescues while wearing it.  I made a startling discovery….  Rolling without towline easy peasy, rolling with towline not so easy at all.  I don’t do a layback roll but the position of the towline must hamper me in some way.  A few experiments suggested towline to the front for normal circumstances and pushed round the back for self rescue.  I thought also about a deck-mounted system but the adventures of earlier had definitely shown the benefits of the paddler having it attached to them.

IMGP0116 Mackayak does her thang in the Black Beast

I managed to do everything I wanted in the pool but did not have the success rate of previous weeks.  I finished up being unable to self-rescue at all and I wonder if something was catching and stopping me getting on the back deck.  Perhaps I was just utterly and totally knackered.  I (and the boat) certainly looked it by the end of the day!

IMGP0119Still single?  I wonder why?!!! 

photoOh s***

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine’s night out

The rinse and spin cycle on my washing machine had barely finished after our session on Sunday, when it was time to pack a bag once more and head for the pool again.

Of course I wanted to practice the same old same old, and I did, successfully.  The most exciting thing, however, was the launch of Mackayak’s latest acquisition, The Black Beast.

 IMGP0041 Thinking about the Elbow Roll

IMGP0043 Post-roll

IMGP0045  I think she’s happy!

IMGP0049 Phwoar, look at the chines on that!

IMGP0051 Self rescue

After Mackayak had given it a go, I was instructed to have a shot.  Having squeezed in with my shoes on, I was handed a Greenland paddle.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do!  After a roll or two, I hit upon a new plan – handrolling!  Being a heathen, I handrolled the way I handroll a polo boat but it worked!  So, I can now officially say, '”I can handroll  a sea kayak!”.  The boat seemed really nice, so I look forward to having a go in the sea and seeing how she handles in some conditions.

IMGP0056 A confused paddler

IMGP0059 Handrolling – GET IN!

With only 5 minutes of the session remaining, I decided to jump back in my boat and complete four tasks.  Roll on left, roll on right, re-enter and roll and self-rescue.  This I did, in quick succession, so that was a positive end to the session.  Now I just have to get as slick in the sea!

IMGP0063 Offside roll (you can tell it’s ok by my hair!)

IMGP0064 Re-entry and roll

IMGP0065 Self rescue

After all that fun, I’m more than ready for my bed…..  yawn…….

Monday, 13 February 2012

Voles with gifts….

The transportation of goods from sooth to home is always something of an issue.  This weekend, however, the Orkney Voles were playing in Glenrothes so Mackayak made use of Silver Darling Delivery Services to get her new boat home.

There was great anticipation as the Hamnavoe was crossing the Firth and a small gathering of paddlers convened in her garage ready for the great reveal.  It was worth waiting for……

IMGP0029 Silver Darling Delivery Services arrive with the package

IMGP0030 Like Christmas, only better

 IMGP0032 Rough finished areas

IMGP0033 Her badge



IMGP0036  I think it might be love…..

IMGP0037  “I think even I could manage a static brace in this, look at these connectivity points!”

IMGP0038  “I don’t want to give it back!”

I have tried to suggest to Mackayak some Ninja paddling after work this week but I think we’ll have to wait until the weekend for the maiden voyage.  As well as being great for Greenland skills, I also think that the boat will move rather quickly due to the length, lightness and keel line.  A low volume, quick boat is what I dream of!  Mackayak, I hope you have your garage well secured!!!