Monday, 28 May 2012

Rounding the Cape

Some time ago, it was decided to organise a KKC paddling trip on the north and west coast of Scotland.  At some point, Hairyaker said ‘we could round Cape Wrath’ which seemed to lead to me saying I wasn’t coming unless we went round Cape Wrath.  This was in the middle of weeks of howling northerly gales.  Like that was going to happen.

Last week the weather was OK and it began to look as if the Cape might just be possible after all.  The week went on and the weather got better and better and better.  I phoned the MoD and they weren’t bombing that weekend either….  Something wasn’t right.

And so it was that we arrived in Durness on Friday night in beautiful sunshine and cloudless skies with a lovely fat ridge of high pressure sitting on top of us.  The Cape was most definitely on. What were the chances of that?

IMGP0907 Hold up on the shuttle run

After the usual faff with shuttles, we launched from Balnakeil Bay north of Durness.  The surf was ankle deep and the sky still utterly cloudless (to those reading abroad, the weather in Scotland is never like this!). We were in our t-shirts and shorts!

IMGP0901 The launch site

IMGP0917 Setting off

Who could have asked for better conditions?  The sea was flat, the wind was nothing and the scenery was stunning.  For 18 miles!

IMGP0928Getting in and about the rocks 


First view of the Cape

We stopped near Kervaig for a quick lunch break, mindful that the tide had turned and the west going stream had started.  We knew with the weather and swell conditions and the speed of the tide, we were unlikely to meet anything too nasty, but with any new trip, it seemed best to err on the side of caution.

IMGP0966 Lunch in the tropics

We carried on towards the Cape, I for one excited to actually be there.  I never really believed it would happen. As we approached things became even more stunning, with two arches going though the headland beneath the lighthouse.

IMGP0978In a Geo not many people see 

IMGP0985 Right hand arch through the Cape

After we passed through the arch, a bit of tide was evident but nothing to trouble us and we carried on on our merry way.  By this point in the afternoon the land had heated up a lot through the day, it must have been 30 degrees at least, and winds started to form where the hot air met the cold air over the sea.  This meant we met some strong gusts in all kind of directions as we paddled south towards Sandwood Bay.  By this point I was beginning to get cranky, but answering a call of nature (with a blooming annoying landing) and having a bite to eat cheered me up no end and I was ready for the final push.

IMGP0992 West Coast scenery

IMGP1003 Safely landed at Sandwood Bay

IMGP1012 Camp

IMGP1029 Watching the sunset

After a well deserved rest, we were up early in the morning to escape the midges and to prepare for the second leg of the trip.  Although some of the group were going to go on to Kinlochbervie, I had a ferry to catch from Thurso at 7pm so I had left Phyllis at Droman Pier to the west.

IMGP1072 Surf launching

We had fun launching off the beach into some fun little waves, a great way to cool down on another scorching hot day.  We headed to the end of Sandwood Bay and to the prominent sea stack we could see from the beach.

IMGP1090Neil at the stack 

The next few miles of coastline had some interesting rocks and gaps to play in and we had fun in the bit of swell there was as we wended our way south.

IMGP1102 Catriona waits for the gap

After another few kilometres, we arrived at Droman  Pier, where Phyllis was waiting.  Everyone landed with a few of us heading away and the others intending to carry on to Kinlochbervie after a spot of lunch.

IMGP1116 Phyllis waiting at Droman

IMGP1118 Lots of food! To be eaten at reasonable times!

All too soon it was time to take Hairyaker back to Durness to collect Nanavan and for me to head on to Thurso for the 7pm ferry.  The others had a whole week of fun to look forward to.

What a fabulous trip in perfect conditions.  A once in a lifetime experience.


540280_10150979664495180_552155179_12411545_664418729_n The trip

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me about paddling across the Pentland Firth and happened to mention he was also planning to paddle to Foula.  I hate open crossings but for some reason, the thought of going to Foula appealed to me.  However, it is a long way…..

I have decided that there is no way I can manage the trip unless I train and was advised by one who knows about these things to concentrate on my forward paddling technique and use good technique to obtain maximum efficiency with minimum effort.  She asked if I had ever tried a wing. I hadn’t.  In Mackayak’s cupboard is a wing, so I asked very nicely if I could borrow it.  She asked to borrow my crappy old buoyancy aid…..

There is a nice wee paddle from Holm to Scapa which makes a lovely solo evening trip and from where it is easy to be picked up.  I did this route the other week and moved much faster than I expected.  A new game formed in my mind.  Why not paddle from Holm to Scapa but try and get quicker every time?  But always try to do so with a comfortable cruising speed and good technique?

Today the weather was beautiful so I was determined to get out in my boat.  Holm to Scapa Timetrial, day one, was on!

IMGP0882 Ready for the off

My housemate took me to Holm and literally threw me out of the van (he wanted to go to the gym).  It was probably the fastest I’ve ever got on the water!  While I was paddling I was concentrating on my forward paddling technique as I went along so didn’t take many photos (that would have meant stopping) but I did get a few.

IMGP0886 View in Scapa Flow

IMGP0889 The interesting bit


Happy Northern Kayaker (I found the shades in Easter Island, hence why they are so unflattering!)

I carried on, thinking about my stoke, spending most of my time trying to get used to the wing.  It seemed to force me to paddle properly with a good active posture and a high angle stroke.  I felt though that I needed to move my footrests a bit closer to allow full connectivity and power transfer.  I think, however, that a 215 wing is too long for me and ideally I would want a 210 like my standard paddles.  Not that I can afford a wing anyway…. I tried to maintain a good comfortable cruising speed all the way, but the last kilometre to the pier seemed to go on for days.  Eventually I reached it and found Phyllis and my (impatient) housemate waiting at the slip.

The last time I paddled from Holm to Scapa, when I wasn’t really trying, I managed the route in 1 hour and 35 mins.  Tonight I managed 10.1km in 1 hour and 25 mins. With a max speed of 8.6km/h and an average speed of 7.2km/h.

With a bit more work on my technique, I’m sure I can better that, then I will have to find a 15km timetrial route……

IMGP0890The housemate was pleased to see NK at Scapa 

IMGP0892Sunset over Scapa

Monday, 21 May 2012

Summer in Moray

This weekend was the second Scottish Women’s Paddle Symposium based in Findhorn in Moray.  The aim of the event was to encourage the participation of women in paddlesport by providing a female only environment in which ladies could learn without pressure.

 IMGP0824 Findhorn Bay

This year, I was asked to coach on the sea kayak team which was a massive honour but also a little bit daunting!  It did mean I got a red hoody though!


 Red hoody invasion!

On Saturday, myself and Anne led a 3* trip from Lossie to Hopeman.  The conditions were good 3* conditions so the ladies were challenged but all looked happy and confident in their boats.  With the wind and swell running the way it was, we talked a little bit about surfing along the waves to use the conditions to our advantage and also thought about how the boats handled in the conditions.  Having rounded a sandbar on a headland, after a bit of inspection, we paddled in closer to the shore to see some more scenery. It wasn’t a day for getting in caves though. 

IMGP0834 3* journeyees

Lunch time came and I went scouting on ahead to find a landing spot.  None were great and after checking out two or three, I found a friendly sandy beach and came in without incident.  I radioed Anne and she sent the ladies in one by one.  Surf landing was a new challenge for many of the ladies but they all did brilliantly. 

IMGP0836 Timing their landings 

Once safely on the beach, we talked some more about surf landings and launches and about how to read the conditions to make things easy for yourself.  We all had a look at the map and saw where we had been and where we were heading to.

IMGP0841 Discussing some coaching points

After taking a minute to chat about how we were going to launch again, everyone prepared to get back on the water with me going on ahead as a marker to launch to (and to take the photos!).

IMGP0854 Getting air!

IMGP0845 Happy ladies!

As I waited for the ladies to come out, I heard some definite whoops as they came over the waves.  I think they enjoyed their surf launches!  With Anne safely on the water, we set off again towards Hopeman with the wind and waves behind us.

IMGP0858 Heading for Hopeman

After a nice meal in the Royal Findhorn Yacht Club and winning a t-shirt in the raffle, it was time for an early night and preparation for Sunday.

Sunday morning saw Kate Duffus, Carol Laing and I head back over to Hopeman for a spot of rockhopping.  We each had a group of 4 and worked with them on the strokes and concepts needed to have fun about the rocks.  The conditions were not ideal as the NE wind and swell were still coming in and the rocks were a bit bottom scrapey.  After thinking about a few strokes in the shelter of the harbour, we went out side to find some rocks.  Conditions were a little bit too much for what we wanted to do so we retreated round the other side of the harbour wall and spent a bit of time manoeuvring around a rock using combinations of strokes.  We then headed down the coast and played around a few rocks, thinking again about timing and how to approach what we wanted to go through. All the ladies had a go in and around the rocks, despite feeling not feeling hugely confident at the beginning.

IMGP0860 Lynn heads in after the rockhopping session

In the afternoon it was back to Findhorn Bay for a session on rescues with Alison French and Aggie.  We started by running through the rescue on the shore with me getting to play the casualty while the ladies worked out how they were going to rescue me.  We then split into smaller groups with me taking Lynn and Rebecca.  We worked on peer rescues and talked a little about towing and assisting others.  The tide was whoosing out of the estuary so putting a tow on the rescuer was actually a useful thing to do for real!  We finished by emphasising that emptying boats and rescuing should be physically easy and that it was all about finding things that work for you and practicing them.

IMGP0865 The rescue group

Soon the day, and the event, were all over and after another round of boat wrangling, it was time to head off home. 

I think everyone would agree it was another great event so well done to the organising committee!  Roll on 2014!

IMGP0818Phyllis Paddlewagon