Friday 31 August 2012

A little bit special

Tonight I had wanted to go climbing at the quarry, especially as I came home to a box containing my first bits of gear (it’s a slippery slope….).  However, my climbing buddy had other commitments and it was just not to be.  I came home and spent about an hour wriggling around the house like I had ants in my pants trying to think of a way to ‘do something’ before remembering that it was Thursday and that KKC would be having a paddle.

At the carpark, after the usual debate, one of the newer paddlers said that they had never been to the Gloup and given the WNW wind and lack of swell, it seemed rude not to take her there.  The Gloup from Sandside is no distance at all, but it is one of our ‘must see’ attractions and with a nights now drawing in as they are, it was an ideal choice.

IMGP2752 Setting off from Sandside as dusk fell

We did not mean to go on a dusk/night paddle but by the time we were organised and on the water (OK, by the time the Keeper of Voles was on the water…) it was almost sunset.  The wind had dropped away and there was a chill in the air.  As we set off, the moon was obvious in the sky.

IMGP2762 Colin paddles under the moon

Soon we had reached the Gloup and made our way under the waterfall into the cave behind.  I tried to use the sneaky escape route but the tide seemed too high.  I once had a scary experience in there, I do not wish to repeat it!

IMGP2767 Caving

IMGP2773 A happy Jane enjoying her first Gloup experience

After the Gloup, we decided to carry on a bit further to the Brough of Deerness.  There is a cave in the geo that for some reason I had never been in, it turned out to be massive!

IMGP2806 Christina enjoys the Brough Cave

It was gone 9pm when we left the cave and darkness had fallen.  Our path was illuminated by the moon but it was still hard to see where everyone was or where we were going!  Things seem bigger and scarier when you can’t see them….


Paddling under the moon

As we approached the beach at Sandside, it was hard to know what to head for until bits of car started to reflect our torch lights.  The bay was flat calm and the wind had dropped away and the moon on the water was just lovely.  We stood for quite a while once we had landed just enjoying being there and watching the moon and the clouds pass by.

IMGP2818The Shalder at Sandside 

Neil then suggested a group photo.  Somehow, it seemed very apt.

IMGP2825 Night time Gloupers.

Maybe missing climbing wasn’t such a bad thing after all….

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Rambo’s Challenge

About six months ago, Hairyaker told me that his friend was planning to cycle from Inverness to John o’ Groats, to paddle across the Pentland Firth and then to run to Kirkwall to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation and Orkney Heart Support Group.  So 120 miles on a bike, 7 miles in a boat and 20 miles on foot.  Oh and did we mention that the Pentland Firth is probably the most tidal bit of water in the UK and that Rambo had never kayaked before?

To his credit, Hairyaker got Rambo along to the club pool sessions and gradually over the summer got him competent in a boat, and so it was that we were all up at 2.15am on Saturday morning to paddle with him over the Pentland Firth. 

Rambo arrived in John o’ Groats at about 3.30am, having left Inverness at 7pm the previous evening and having cycled through the night.  After a very brief rest, it was time for us to set off, as time and tide wait for no man!

IMGP2714 Too early in the morning for getting up!

The crossing had been brought forward by 24 hours as a big front was due to hit Orkney later on Saturday.  The timing of its arrival had been a question all week, with Hairyaker desperately trying to find a way for the crossing to happen in suitable conditions.  As someone said the other day, you just don’t f*** with the Firth.  Anyway, by Thursday and Friday it seemed that the front was coming in later in the day on Saturday which meant the 4am Saturday crossing was on!  I felt quite honoured to escort Rambo’s kayak on the foot passenger ferry to John o’ Groats on Friday night!

IMGP2689 Kayak transportation

IMGP2686 Tides in the Firth (on a flat, flat, flat calm day)

Because of the time of the tide, we set off in the pitch dark, making the experience and anticipation all that greater.  Because Rambo is new to kayaking and this was the Pentland Firth, we also had a couple of support boats with us.  This was a new experience for me, especially as one turned up part way across and I thought it was a fishing boat about to run us down! 

Being dark, we were obviously able to navigate using the lights of the Firth, heading first towards Stroma and the large eddy that forms behind it on the flood.

IMGP2718 Rambo sets off into the darkness….

The conditions really could not have been more perfect, although we were aware that change was in the air and that we were almost racing the weather.  Between the mainland and Stroma, we hit the flow which kicked up a few interesting waves made even more exciting in the dark!  As we continued, we realised that the eddy was pulling us too far north and that the flow seemed to be running for longer than anticipated.  We changed course, aiming for Old Head on South Ronaldsay, planning for the ebb tide to then take us back up to Burwick.

IMGP2720 Dawn breaks over the Pentland Firth

As it go lighter we carried on on an easterly course until Mike and Hairyaker thought we had gone far enough east to then ferryglide into Burwick.  Mistime the ebb and you end up having to land at Sandwick….

IMGP2722 Rambo passes Muckle Skerry at about 5.50am, accompanied by a flotilla of support boats!

About 3/4 of the way across, after 2 hours of solid paddling and ferrygliding, it was clear that Rambo was tiring a bit.  There was a long section where it felt like we were getting no where because we were ferrygliding the tide, although Mike (with the chart plotter) said we were making reasonable progress.  After a quick rest and bite to eat, Rambo (and us) carried on and after another 10 minutes or so, all of a sudden we picked up the north flowing ebb and shot up towards Burwick.  Phew!

IMGP2724 A well earned break

IMGP2725 The dawn skies over South Ronaldsay

Once the breakwater at Burwick came into sight, we knew we were on the home straight.  Rambo was pretty knackered by this point and we had to keep telling him different things to head for so he could just put his head down and paddle.  By the end of the crossing it was clear he was running on pure determination and brute strength (and we were having trouble keeping up!).

At almost 7am we landed after a 9.4 mile paddle lasting 2 hours and 43 minutes.  Rambo was clearly exhausted but got himself out of the boat and up to the van to change.  Even before I had sorted my paddling kit, he had set off on his 20 mile run to Kirkwall.  Impressive!

IMGP2726 Safely at Burwick

firth250812 The route

Sometime later, after what seemed to me a whole day, we gathered outside the Cathedral in anticipation of Rambo’s arrival.  Hairyaker and I were really pleased that the weather had changed and the evil front had indeed come in vindicating the change of plan!


Hairyaker holds onto a Guiness for Rambo’s arrival

As Rambo rounded the corner, it was obvious he was completely drained and barely able to walk or run any further.  It was a very emotional sight as he crossed the finishing line.  I think there were a few tears in the crowd.

IMGP2729 The last 10m…

IMGP2733 He’s done it!!!

Radio Orkney interviewed Rambo not long after he arrived in Kirkwall.  Fast forward to about 2 minutes 35 seconds to hear him recount his experience.

All I can say is, bloody well done.  What an achievement.

Saturday 25 August 2012

The freestyle quest

I’m not sure that 6 months ago I was even certain what freestyle kayaking was.  Now I am a little bit obsessed. 

It all started with those in Shetland getting me to try stern squirts and has now escalated…..  About 2 weeks ago I got my hands on my baby boat (a rash eBay purchase) and now spend hours watching videos on YouTube and just itching to go to Scapa to practice.  I think it might be some kind of drug.

Why freestyle?  Well, I suppose it is a discipline with clear and defined challenges.  You can either bow stall or you can’t.  It is obvious if you are cartwheeling or if you are not.  I suppose there is a little thing to work towards every session and that in itself is rewarding.  On a more practical basis, I can sling my playboat in the van and get to the water with no assistance, I don’t need anyone to hold my hand while I practice and an hour on the water every couple of days is just right for (very) incremental improvement, while offering me my boating fix and letting me still have an ‘evening’ at home.

  The first steps – trying to l learn to stern squirt at Scapa - 26th June 2012

 Playing on the eddyline at the Garry - 31st june 2012

The Falls of Firth – 10th July 2012

  The Wall, The Tay at Stanley – 9th August 2012

My progress in freestyle has been somewhat slow to say the least.  Firstly, I am limited to flatwater moves as, well, all we have is flatwater and my coaching comes from YouTube and comments on photos from my friends on Facebook!  It feels like a bit of a lonely road….

I think, however, that I am making very slow progress, although I am impatient for more dramatic results.  I also struggle with the transition of the theoretical understanding to the practical execution.  It is not that I don’t know what I am supposed to do, I just find it hard to do what I am supposed to do (even if I think I am doing it!).  Perhaps I shouldn’t expect instant results when I have only had my playboat for 2 weeks and 2 days!

The other day Mackayak and I took some footage to try and help me improve and there is a lot of improving to be done!  I am hoping that my two days with Sam Ward from Live it Love it in October will help…..  Until then, back to Scapa….

Tuesday 21 August 2012

A very long paddle

I am sure that in a few years time I will look back at this post and laugh, but for me at the moment the prospect of a 40km or 50km day paddle is still quite daunting.  Doable, but a definite challenge.

This year, the club wanted to raise some funds and so a couple of sponsored paddles were planned.  10km from Holm Village to Scapa for the juniors and Kirkwall to the 1st Barrier for the seniors.

We met early on Sunday morning at Hatston slip in lovely weather, which of course caused great debate about what to wear….  We set off for the String in order to catch the tide eastwards towards Rerwick and Deerness.

IMGP2546 The Keeper of Voles and Coach Laughton cruising through the String past Helliar Holm

Because I was acutely aware of how far we had to paddle and how I had felt doing such a distance on a baking hot day round Cape Wrath, I was being a bit of a food, drink and stopping facist so declared a stop would be had every 10km.  Food was to be consumed whether people were hungry or not!  The first stop was therefore at Rerwick Head.

IMGP2549 Scoffing at Rerwick

IMGP2553 Cruising to Deerness

As we reached Mull Head, we hit an exciting little tiderace, it was great! As we turned the corner we were able to get up close to the coast and have a bit of an explore, including a visit to the Gloup.

IMGP2562 Passing Saunders Stack

IMGP2569 Hairyaker in The Gloup

As we left The Gloup the sun was high in the sky and the weather was glorious.  Very uncharacteristic Orkney paddling weather!

IMGP2579 Catching the rays at Sandside (more food!)

We carried on for the next 10km or so in baking hot sunshine, down the East Deerness coast, across the Newark and Dingieshowe bays and across to Castle of Claisdie where we all naturally felt indeed of another break, having reached the 30km mark.  The sun was clearly beginning to have an affect on everyone – we are not used to it in Orkney!

IMGP2602 NK taking advantage of the shade


The sun was a bit much for Stuart

As we set off after our break, the weather began to change for the worst, with the wind really picking up.  With a SE wind onto an east facing shore, the water also became more interesting, but it was still possible to get into a few caves along the way.  As we reached the Roseness Headland, there was significant chop evident, a phenomenon we have noticed on several occasions and which we think must relate to tidal movements in the area.

IMGP2610 Sandy in the Roseness Gloup

IMGP2612 Chop at Roseness

Rounding Roseness we had the wind behind us and surfed our way back towards the first barrier on the wind and swell.  The Dairy Owner and I landed at the First Barrier and decided that 40km was not nearly enough and that we really should continue the trip to Scapa to complete the circumnavigation of East Mainland in one trip.  After some more food (by this point I could not face another sandwich or banana!), we did the portage over the barrier (and down the middle of the road!), ready for the final leg.  By this point the weather had really deteriorated and it was noticeably colder.

IMGP2621 The Dairyman approaching Scapa

IMGP2623 Our destination!

IMGP2625 A welcoming committee!

As we rounded Scapa Pier and headed towards the slip, a familiar silver car appeared flashing its lights and tooting its horn! After all that distance it was nice to be welcomed home!

The GPS told us that we had covered a distance of 50.9km which is the furthest I have ever paddled in a day, but ultimately, although tiring, it felt like a real achievement and it is nice to be able to say we circumnavigated all of East Mainland in one go.  I raised a little bit of money too, which all helps keep the club going and the equipment and boats functioning properly.

We are already talking about a West Mainland circumnavigation but before that, we are support boating on a charity paddle across the Pentland Firth next weekend.  The adventures just keep coming!


The BIG summer adventure…

Where to start with this post?  So much to write about…. so much happened in such a short time, it was, well, an adventure….

The Tall One and I fell off the boat to Shetland very early on the Friday morning and made a bee-line to the New Harbour Cafe.  Somehow it had taken me 3.5 years to find and was only discovered on a very cold, dark morning in January…..  After a fat breakfast and a visit to the Coop, we headed up to Bridge End on Burra where the Shetland Sea Kayak Symposium was based.  Most of the coaches and a few of the participants were already there and after a while it was announced that we were going to Muckle Roe. 

IMGP1946 Funky stack with hole in the middle

The weather was beautiful which I couldn’t quite comprehend, I had to have a roll to cool myself off in my heavy duty black drysuit!

IMGP1983More funky stacks!

IMGP1980  The Tall One finds a bit of swell…

IMGP2000 Lunchtime

IMGP2005 Caving

IMGP2037 Heading for the Muckle Roe bridge and the end of the paddle

531339_10151146696318523_1864122348_n                Our route (map:Kate Duffus)

Friday night marked the start of the symposium proper and after no time for a shower and a scrub up, it was time for dinner and a few drinks.  It was also time for the inaugural performance of The Truly Awful Band.  Unfortunately for me, it transpired that the Truly Awful Band were far less awful than they claimed and so me and my fiddle were put to shame!

IMGP2040  Iain, Jim and Richard: Not awful at all!

Dave Rossetter from Stirling Canoes had brought the club a delivery of shiny new kayaks, while my friends and I had all brought along our other toys, as we had vague hopes of getting out to play.  Old friends, new boats and a few beers is certainly a winning combination!

255264_10151977486820165_1846239173_n The Pedant and The Adventuress try out the new club boats while I perv over the nearly new Scarab belonging to Friend with Gills (did we mention it hasn’t got wet yet?)

Saturday morning saw the first day of the symposium and a chance to choose workshops and coaching options.  I chose rough water because…..  I like rough water!

We set off for Papa Stour, which is an amazing island but which also involves a lot of cave exploration. Unfortunately on this particular occasion, I wanted to play in rough water and not be amalgamated into a trip so I wasn’t overly happy at the start of the day.

IMGP2049 Mrs S in the tide and swell

At Papa Stour, the group split, with most going to explore the island but with Mrs S and I requesting more rough water skills while we had a nice coach on hand to work with!

IMGP2066 Rough water landing

480474_10151953239970018_1524694291_n Time for a biscuit break! (Photo: Huw Jones)

As with any good symposium, we returned to the hall for a good feed in the evening, followed by a few drinks at the Bridge End Centre.  Everything was far more relaxed (sober) than in previous years, as 4 participants were busy doing their 4* assessment and there was much tidal planning being undertaken! I don’t think the Friend with Gills took kindly to my offers of help, particularly not when I kept pointing out the RYA training chart was actually big chunks of Orkney and that things marked were causeways and not bridges……

I wasn’t sure what to pick on Sunday, so I went for Group Skills followed by my favourite….  Rockhopping! The group skills session focused on leadership styles as we made our way south from Bridge End.  We portaged over to Bannamin and took advantage of the conditions to partake in some bonus rockhopping.

IMGP2092 Head down South Voe on glassy seas

IMGP2100 Hanging around in the white fluffy stuff by the rocks

The afternoon session saw us head out from Hamnavoe for more Rockhopping.  As I will crash though pretty much anything (more on that later), my coaching point was to make it look like I was passing through gaps and around rocks like I wasn’t doing anything (ha ha ha).  All was fine, until I got a little too friendly with a rock….

422194_353501598062753_983272223_n There’s some extra air in my drysuit! (Photo: Dave Rossetter)

395969_353501728062740_323846713_n High and dry…… (Photo: Dave Rossetter)

IMGP2106 Looking just a little bit too happy about having snapped my £300 paddle (and, as it subsequently transpired, holed my boat)!

The Shetland club had organised a further paddle gathering for the weekend after the symposium so a few folk, especially those fae far sooth, were still on the islands and up for a paddle.  First up for me was a little pootle out of Easter Skeld.  My photos don’t really do it justice.

IMGP2139 Heading for Glitterump

IMGP2157 Scotty Dog gap

IMGP2160 A welcome van camp

427171_10151146717498523_844795269_n Quite a long pootle really! (Map: Kate Duffus)

Next up was a biggy, with Coach Kate deciding that she really fancied going round Sumburgh and Fitful Head (around the bottom of Shetland).  I must have been feeling ill as I agreed that this really was a very good idea!

We launched from Grutness and paddle to the tombola beach leading to St Ninian’s Isle.  As the day progressed, the weather deteriorated and I was soaked by the end of it!  Even so, it really was one of the best paddles I have ever done, especially as I went round the top of Shetland last August as part of the Unst meet.

IMGP2178 Coach Kate and Friend with Gills on the swell of Sumburgh Head


Under Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

IMGP2200 Crossing Garth Wick where the Braer sank causing a huge environmental disaster

IMGP2210 No whales in Whales Wick

IMGP2227 Friend with Gills can’t resist a bit of bruck with value!


The route (map: Kate Duffus)

The next adventure was planned throughout the day and it was decided we’d travel north to visit Eshaness.  One of the ‘must paddle’ places in Shetland.  I had been up there a few times with my friends and always looked longingly to Dore Holm, an island with a huge arch through it.

IMGP0039 Dore Holm in January

IMGP2243 Friend with Gills in the Dore Holm arch

IMGP2251 Chocolate brownie rock! (it made me hungry!)


IMGP2287 Lunch in the Holes of Scraada, a huge gloup

IMGP2294 NK in disguise!


 The route (map: Kate Duffus)

After the Eshaness paddle, we headed to the famous Braewick tearoom which must have the best view in the world.  While eating our cake and drinking our tea, it was decided that a trip to the Drongs would be a fine way to finish my trip before catching the ferry at 5.30pm the next day.

IMGP2329 Heading for the Drongs

IMGP2334 Getting closer!


Under the Drongs 

IMGP2353 Time to go home.  :-(


Hillswick to Sand Wick with a trolley wheel back to the car!

After a few days at home, it was time for part two of my adventures, a trip to my ‘homeland’ and a chance to collect the rest of my fleet.  I even got to see some trees! 

IMGP2359 The house I grew up in!


On the way back up the road, I met Doc Jen who had taken in my stupidly small playboat for me to save on postage to Orkney.  The question was whether I could even get in it as it really is very, very small!  We rendez-voused at Stanley on another fine day and went out for a play.

IMGP2368”I can get in!!!”

IMGP2371 Stern squirts on the eddy line

IMGP2391 Doc Jen shows me how it should be done…..

IMGP2390 Jen stern stalls

IMGP2394 The end of the adventure

Before I had to head back to work on the Monday, there was even time for a quick trip to Shapinsay and our old favourite, Stromness to Skaill. 

What an action packed two weeks!