Monday, 26 March 2012

Fog, Firth and fatigue

The forecast this weekend was very good, with no wind at all.  It was the best weather in months.  We decided to go for a paddle involving some time for a bit of 4* practice.  We chose to go from Craigiefield which is on the north-eastern edge of Kirkwall, to Tingwall in West Mainland.  It was a spring tide so, although the sea was flat and the wind almost non-existent, there were several noticeable tidal streams to negotiate on route.

It was slightly foggy when we left Kirkwall but still easy enough to see where we were.  We soon arrived on the west side of Thieves Holm ready to negotiate the String.  This runs at 4kns at Springs but had only started ebbing about an hour before so was probably only doing about 2kns.  We got a couple of the guys who are going to do 4* training soon to take a bearing over to Stromberry Point on Shapinsay and to tell us how we were going to cross the tide so that we would end up where we wanted to be.

IMGP0523 The Diver heads to Thieves Holm

Over on Shapinsay, the fog was thicker and a cold wind was coming off the land.  I had to root around in my day hatch for my lucky hat.  I love that hat (it was a present from my closest friend, the keeper of voles, and it got me my 4*), thus negating the whole point of it being supposedly an expendable paddling hat….. I’d be really upset if I lost it!

Anyway, around the Holms to the west of Shapinsay, we knew the tide would be running at around 5kns maximum and had started at around 12.30pm, so we wanted to go and have look at it and have a bit of a play around. Unfortunately, however, we couldn’t see the holms…… Nor could we see the approaching creel boats until they were about 200m away.  After a brief stop for footrest adjustment and for some lunch, the surfer demonstrated his laser vision by spotting Vasa Skerry through the fog.  

IMGP0532 Footrest stop

After lunch, we paddled back up the eddy and across the flow to Vasa Skerry.  It was funny to see how it ran at different speeds in close proximity.  The Surfer and Hairyaker were whizzing along on the flow, while I, only a few metres away was in a much slower part.  We arrived at Vasa Skerry and couldn’t see much…..

IMGP0537 Vasa Skerry in the fog

Having finally got myself organised for 4*, I had loads of useful things about my person and so Hairyaker and I were well equipped for a bit of compass work.  We decided we wanted to head westwards, hoping that the flow would carry us northwards towards the holms.  Off we set on a bearing of 300 degrees.  We couldn’t see anything but each other in any direction.  It was eerie.  Eventually, a huge island loomed out of the fog.  It was at least 100m high.  ‘Look, look, it’s Gairsay’.  We paddled towards it.  We crossed another strong tidal flow and tucked into an eddy.  Up close it was small. it was not Gairsay, it was Grass Holm….  Map work successful! 

IMGP0540  The tide runs behind the Tall One 

We decided to go anti clockwise around Grass Holm then head west.  We were more concerned about not being taken too far north on the tide than visiting the next holm (which we couldn’t see) so we set a course well south of it so that at the very worst, we’d bump into Gairsay.  As it happened, after a few hundred yards, Taing Skerry became visible so I adjusted course and headed for it so we could pause again and set another course.

Again we really didn’t want to get taken northwards on the tide so we set a bearing that would take us into Gairsay Sound, even if the tide pushed us north, as we knew it would.  Again we were paddling blind but once again, land slowly resolved from the fog.  Pausing again on Holm of Boray, we knew we were were pretty much where we wanted to be.  I set off due west and then became very disorientated with the fog.  I knew I had to follow my compass, but my internal compass was sure we were going the wrong way. It was a very unnerving feeling.  After a few minutes we could hear the throb of an engine and my hand was clutching my radio when an inter-isles ferry passed behind us on the other side of Holm of Boray.  It was shrouded in fog and seemed very odd indeed.

Paddling onwards, land appeared on my right and I knew it was Gairsay.  It seemed better to paddle where we could see something so we made for Maes Taing and then followed the coast of Gairsay to The Taing where we could make the shortest crossing over to the mainland.

IMGP0546 Hairyaker heading over to Tingwall

The tide through Gairsay Sound again pushed us northwest and we made landfall at Wass Wick.  After a few minutes more paddling, Tingwall pier appeared from the fog and we landed before the arrival of the evening ferry.  A good day out and fun to test those navigational skills!

240312 The route

Mackayak had been disappointed to miss out on this trip as she wanted to get some more experience in tides and I am sure she would have enjoyed navigating her way across Wide Firth.  She suggested that we go to the Falls of Firth on Sunday morning instead.  The Falls of Firth are nothing like the Falls of Lora but we can pretend….I said (as a test) “what is the tide doing tomorrow then?” and was promptly given an answer, thus proving she can work these things out perfectly well, whatever she claims….  We arranged to meet at 9.15am to make sure we got the maximum flow.  We trussed ourselves up in our full kit and set forth….

IMGP0554 Mackayak breaking in

We did some breaking in and some breaking out, some ferrygliding and some rolling in the flow.  Which was good because it was really hot!  At about 11am the flow reached its maximum.  I don’t know how fast it goes but I couldn’t paddle against it at 10am so it must have been running at 5 or 6 knots at its maximum.  On the north side of the flow the eddy line was really well defined and I had lots of fun breaking out by edging and letting the flow flick the back of my boat round.

IMGP0558 Rolling in the flow

IMGP0561 Playing around in the maximum flow

IMGP0564Don’t mess with us!  We have blue helmets! 

Next was a pool session with sea boats.  Mackayak wanted to try some more things in her ‘euro’ kit in the warm water.  I was just pratting about.  I did some rolls and some re-entry and rolls and some self rescues.  I couldn’t butterfly handroll my Avocet and my butterfly rolls in general were a bit ropey.  I didn’t really care though.  I’ve done all my hardcore practising, now I am just going to have some fun for a while.

Firstly I dislocated my shoulder. I called for help from the Keeper of Voles.  He was amusingly unsympathetic ‘I know it hurts but I have to get you in the boat’ etc.  It was like something I would say. Just when he thought it was safe to paddle off, I suddenly became unconscious and capsized again.  Although I had to keep speaking ‘I can’t help you, I’m unconscious’ etc etc.  Lots of scoop practice all round!  We then did some rescues with another participant and helped him practise a self rescue method.  It’s funny to realise that people see you practising things and want to try too and it’s always really good when you can help them.

After this, Hairyaker proposed another paddle.  I was keen, but then the continuing saga of my disastrous private life intervened.  I slumped in Mackayak’s car and realised I was completely emotionally and physically drained.  I went home and fell asleep in a deckchair.  Maybe I had done enough for one day….


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Achieving my goals

If you read this blog often (which I am sure you don’t), you will have noticed that I have been strangely quiet for the past two weeks.  This, however, is only because I have been very busy.

The Shalder returned from the menders with a giant fibreglass plaster in her back hatch and is again watertight (or at least that part is).

IMGP0441 Repair

Pleased to have her back, I decided it was time for stage two of the upgrade process.  New hatch covers and new decklines and elastics.

IMGP0440IMGP0447  IMGP0450  Before, during and after

With the boat all fixed, it was time to prepare for 4*.  This involved a mad panic and lots of Ortleib drybags.  All of the ones I own, in fact.  I got out all my paddling stuff and decided what to take, then I decided what was missing.  I must have visited every shop in Kirkwall buying various bits of kit while at the same time having complete palpitations about the whole experience.  Despite the stress and initial shambles, I ended up with a range of drybags all packed, each with a key ring on them describing the contents.  If it wasn’t in those dry bags, it wasn’t going.

IMGP0516 Pissing about in the tide

On Friday I set off for Skye, meeting up with two of the Stornoway guys in the Kyleakin carpark.  We found Gordon and clients there too and had a brief chat before setting off to the bridge.  We played around for a while in the tide, ate some twixes (thanks Tim!) and then headed back for a bit more of a play.  We finished with a bit of wet work at the carpark.  Rolling, re-entry and rolls and self-rescues.  Mark discovered again that his drysuit isn’t dry…..

We convened bright and early on Saturday for 4* assessment and again went out to the Bridge to test leadership skills.  It’s a dangerous piece of water out there.  There were asthma attacks, dislocated shoulders, sea sickness, lost paddlers, holes in boats, hypothermia…….  You name it, it seemed to happen.  In between these incidents, there were lots of questions about the emergency services, means of summoning help, coastguard areas and lifeboat stations.  I was glad I had brought a laminated chart and compass with romer as I kept being asked to estimate the distance to different buoys…..

I was disappointed with my performance, my boat repair was good and held to the end of the day and my hypothermic victim was having a wail of a time in a group shelter eating twixes by the time I had finished with him but my rescues were sluggish and I thought I answered loads of questions badly.  I was ready for giving up on the whole thing by the end of the day.

Sunday came and was just too calm for anything so we were postponed until Monday when a F5 gusting F8 was due to arrive….  Monday came and we got a phonecall at 7.30am instructing us to be at Armadale Pier at 9am.  At Armadale Pier it was windy, more than a F4 windy.  And it was raining.  I don’t like rain.

The assessors wanted to see us performing specific things in sea state 4 so we set off into the head wind in search of waves.  Which we found.  We were told that conditions were the bottom end of 5*.  That’ll do me.  We were encouraged to try our self rescues out there too, even though the syllabus only requires them in flat water.  Everyone did really well, with Tim only knocked off his deck at the last second by a nasty wave.

IMGP0520 Steve rescues Tim, Gordon watches

I decided I was going to do a re-enter and roll because I thought that would be easier in the conditions.  I didn’t come up with the first roll but managed on the second attempt.  I was really working hard again to get properly upside down, even though I was floating about letting the air out of my suit before I started!  I was really pleased!  All that practise, even if it was in the swimming pool, really seemed to have paid off.

Back at the pier, I wanted to try my other self rescue and was explaining to Gordon that it was the only way I can do it at all.  He observed and said he did it that way too but that I put my face in the water and he doesn’t.  He said he positioned his hands differently too.  I said that it taken ages to find a way that worked and I was sticking to it!  Then he asked if there was a hole in my drysuit under my arm.  I looked, he pushed me in!  I rolled up and swore.  He said ‘that’s what playing polo does for you’, and pushed me in again….  I rolled up and ran away!

I landed and felt much cheerier about the experience.  I had done the things that had been worrying me most and I suppose had been having fun.  I felt a bit more positive.

Back at base, it was time for individual feedback.  Tim was up first as he had a boat to catch.  We waited downstairs before he came in and told us he’d passed.  Next up was me.  I was very, very nervous but Callum told me I had passed too and that all three assessors had agreed I was at 4* standard.  I was in shock!  Obviously there were things to work on and improve but after such a long journey, I didn’t quite know what to say.

I’m still in shock that I have actually finally passed my 4*.  I keep thinking someone is going to phone up and tell me there has been a great big mistake…..

Monday, 5 March 2012

Cold water!

I had great intentions this weekend and frankly, failed miserably in achieving any of them.  I didn’t manage to sit in my surf boat once, despite having just received a new spraydeck for it.

After communication with Mackayak from my bed on Sunday morning, it was finally agreed that we would meet at Scapa at 11.  I rolled out accordingly and pulled on my many layers.  I must now have more sets of thermals than most people have pairs of pants, but finally I have a set that I really like and which actually seem to fit really well.  This annoys me as they happen to be North Face ones and I always like to make fun of certain people for having everything North Face…..  Anyway, they are really good and really warm and really comfy.  Just ideal if you’re short in the body and long in the leg like me!

When Mackayak arrived she had one question, “Why?”.

Because I want to practice outside.  In my 9 layers of clothing and in cold water.  4* assessment is not done in a swimming pool!  And boy was it cold!  My body was fine, but my hands were numb in seconds and my face was frozen!  I may have wanted to practice, but I didn’t look particularly happy about it once I had!

IMGP0342 Insert expletives as required

I’m not sure what to do about this.  My gloves are knackered but I can’t find my new pair and am too skint to buy anymore.  I also don’t want muckle gloves because I still need to be able to use my hands.  Perhaps you can get uber thick palmless mitts?  May be I could buy these and cut holes in them?

image  and would this keep my head any warmer? image

Anyway, I can put on endless layers under my drysuit but I don’t see how to make my hands and face warmer while maintaining the ability to see and to move my fingers.  Answers on a postcard please!

After maybe an hour of practice, having managed to do everything I wanted to do in cold water to a reasonable standard, it was time to go home.  In fact, it was time to go and eat cake.  Or at least to watch someone else eat cake!

The cold water was still too cold to practice they way I wanted to,  I wasn’t learning and I was involuntarily desperate to get out of the water, whatever I did.  I needed a new methodology…. so I went to the pool in my drysuit.

IMGP0361 Rolling (new Rockpools in the background)

I re-entered and rolled and had the same odd stuck on my side issue.  But in the warm water I could think better about this and counteract it.  So now, when I am back out in the sea, I know what I have to do.  Outside, I’d clearly had too much air in my suit, but floating about letting it out wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.  In the pool it was plainly obvious.  I let so much air out when I was inside, I turned into a vacuum pack.  It chaffed.

My right side rolling was still rubbish but improved with a bit of practice and some helpful comments from Mackayak and Hairyaker.  I worked out how to get myself properly upside down for the re-enter and roll and did a few self-rescues (boring I know, but practice makes perfect [or not in my case!]).  We also tried a few other things.

IMGP0369 Scoop rescuing Hairyaker

IMGP0381 How to repair a boat with a hole in the bottom….

On reflection, perhaps I did achieve something yesterday after all…..

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Layzee Daze

Everything in life is little bit stressful at the moment.  At work I am wrestling with a big GIS and database, with an imminent deadline looming.  At home I am worrying about money and various other things and in paddling land I’m trying desperately to improve ready for 4* assessment.  I’ve not been in a very good mood for some time!

I try not to speak to anyone at work at the moment and have my headphones jammed in playing pumping trance to try and drown out the background noise of a shared office.  I do, however, respond to emails.  Amongst the ones to and from the other end of the corridor (“can you shut the database so I can append something?”, “Are you sure that record is in the right place?”, “Try this bit of python code I found on the internet…”), one popped in my inbox from the other side of Kirkwall.  It said “Are you coming to yoga tonight?”.

The sender and I have been going to yoga in the winter for some years now (in Orkney you only do inside evening things in winter) and find it rather enjoyable.  It’s harder work than it seems on the surface and there are still loads of postures I can’t do.  Still, it’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, particularly as at the end you get to lie on the floor for 10 minutes!  I have found other benefits in relation to kayaking.  When I have been doing yoga, I am far more supple than when I have not.  If I am slumping in my boat, I can think of how to sit up properly as if I was about to do a forward bend.  In fact, there are many yoga postures that, if you were to stick a kayak on your legs, would become part of a rolling sequence…

IMGP0268 Boat pose (my favourite – obviously!)

Later, I dragged my (marginally less) grumpy self to canoe polo.  Hairyaker started us off on thinking about how to move the ball across the boat using the paddle, in order to retain possession.  My polo paddle (Brian) came into his own as he has rough strips on his blades to grip the ball.  It was a really useful trick and shall have to try and employ it more in future.  Next we moved onto pushing people in with the ball and how to prevent someone pushing you in.  This is allowed in the rules!  With only 9 players, I was left without a partner and felt a bit lonely!  After a few minutes though, Orange van man and the keeper of voles realised this and we played 2 against one, trying to maintain possession and push each other in.  The keeper of voles shoved me in, right onto another boat.  This is NOT allowed!!!  So I rolled up with cries of “DANGEROUS PLAY!  YOU CAN’T DO THAT!!!”.  Being a rather mild mannered individual, he was rather embarrassed at his own actions!

IMGP0292 Going for the ball against the keeper of voles.  He’s about to launch his boat over mine….

IMGP0298 Getting the chlorine out of my eyes and giving the keeper of voles and good ticking off!

We spent the rest of the evening playing a game with no one holding back at all!  I think because we’d started off pushing each other in, we thought we’d continue.  I kept getting dunked and must have done about 4 or 5 handrolls!  I kept thinking, “Damn it!  I haven’t learnt to handroll and maintain possession of the ball…..”  I scored a sneaky goal but I think it might have been disallowed because the opposition keeper didn’t know the proper rules….  I had another couple of shots that were saved by the keeper.  The Vole Coach was keen to give me tips about my shooting at half time!

IMGP0327 Game play

While I have been writing this post, the postman has been.  He brought an array of interesting items…

There was a surprise gift from a friend of a mini t-shirt to stick to my van window:


A copy of Ocean Paddler magazine:


Inside which is an article of interest by Kate Duffus (you’ll have to read it!):




Those should keep me busy for a while.

Today I had great intentions of going out for a surf.  But when I got up the wind was howling and the rain was falling.  My pyjamas seemed far more appealing so I stayed in, had a snooze and drank some tea.  Everyone needs a lazy day sometimes!