Sent From Treshnish Isles

Sent From Treshnish Isles, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

It is Saturday afternoon and we're sitting in glorious sunshine among the noisy bird life off the west coast of Mull. Probably won't make it to the Dutchman's Cap as we're going fishing instead.

Revolting Limbs

My legs are revolting. Last night, while I was asleep, I suspect they climbed out of bed and sneaked a peak at my diary. Somehow, they have discovered a dreadful truth which I’ve attempted to hide from them. Due to an astonishing series of conflicting dates, I’m not going to compete in three mountain marathons. My legs are in a huff.

The Highlander takes place this weekend based in Strathconon in the north of Scotland. A shoulder injury earlier this year prevented me doing enough training and I’m disappointed to be missing the first running of this new event. The legs are angry. They haven’t spoken to that shoulder for weeks, but that’s a different story.

The Original Mountain Marathon is the last event in the MM calendar. It’s still better known as the KIMM, the Karrimor, but even as the OMM it always takes place on the last weekend in October. Unfortunately, that’s the same weekend as the Scottish Canoe Association’s Perth Paddle-fest.

This year I’ve decided to go to Perth, partly to record podcasts for and also to promote a couple of radio programmes I’m making which involve an element of sea kayaking. The arms are happy, the legs are furious.

They’d also been looking forward to the LAMM in the middle of the year. It would be the first time I’d run this event, but now I find all my limbs will be heavily involved in recording radio programmes. And to add insult to injustice, the Scottish six-day orienteering events clash with our paddle trip to Norway.

So I am confronted with a leg rebellion. “What’s the point of pounding miles around the streets of Glasgow”, they demand to know, “when we're not entering an event?” My legs are very goal-oriented. “And why”, they ask, “must we put up with getting cold, wet and tired every weekend on the hills of Argyll? Do you think we think this is fun?” They’re considering a sit-down strike.

“There’s still the Saunders, the Capricorn and the Phoenix”, I reassure, encouraging them to slip into a pair of Inov-8's. They’re not listening. They’re going out to the pub, muttering something about getting legless….

Keeping Things Dry

There's a danger I'll look back on this entry in a few years and think "What a sad person". I find myself about to write a blog entry about plastic boxes and bags.

Cross-over has always interested me. Solutions from one sphere of activity can often cross-over into entirely unrelated areas.

For example, I read recently about someone who uses a container for welding rods to store his flares. That's an excellent cross-over solution, although I think I have found a cheaper and possibly better one for flares - see below.

First, back to boxes. A Pelicase big enough for a compact camera costs £10.50. The above case cost £2.99 from Lakeland Plastics. Obviously it's not as strong, but it is just as waterproof.

I was also taken with the £3.99 box. The removable dividers make it a useful choice for a First-Aid case, or for stuff that could damage each other if allowed to roll around. The batteries in this compartment give a sense of size.

Now the bags. The PackMate Outdoor Sport Roll bags are proving to be a simple, reliable way to store parachute flares in the kayak cockpit. I've written about these bags before.

They're essentially big zip-lock bags, reinforced with nylon webbing, designed for long term storage of clothes. Parachute flares exactly fit across the medium size. Mine have been behind the cockpit seat on three outings so far, one of which involved a wet exit, and the inside has remained dry.

So there we are. Plastic boxes and bags. If I'm a sad person for writing about such things, remember who read it...

Next Podcast - Going Astray

We stray ever so slightly from the sea kayak part of in the next podcast which is about canoeing.

That's because some of the routes in Eddie Palmer's new book stray into the territory of sea kayaking. Arguably. This latest offering from Pesda Press is published in a few days time.

In the podcast, Eddie talks about the routes in the book and explains the delights of open boating to a relative newbie like me. We also discuss access issues, some of which are also starting to stray into sea kayaking.

With all these things going astray perhaps it's not surprising the Podcast won't go live until late Sunday evening 1st April. As usual listen or subscribe free here or in the Podcast Library.

The Smooth and the Rough

Obviously, this was the smooth. There was hardly a ripple off Ardnamurchan Point yesterday. Unless, like Cailean, you ventured right in to the rocks to touch the point itself, in which case there was still a lot of energy in the swell.

Liz and I were helping Cailean with a few photos for his new guide-book.

We were also taking a few of our own, and taking turns to try a Quest LV with a kevlar hull.

The lightness takes a bit of getting used to on the water, but it looks like I'll be able to hang onto it for a couple of weeks.

Carrying the thing is a doddle! I hitched it on one shoulder, the Ikea bag over the other, and strolled back to the car.

It was great to spend a couple of days with Cat & Cailean at our home up here.

The rough part came this morning.

It seems my 84 yr old Mum had a fall. She's OK but badly shaken.

She lives alone in Spain, having spent the last couple of months in an old-folks home there while a doctor tried to diagnose why her memory is going.

They haven't managed yet, so she's back at home with nursing cover. Turns out she is needing a lot of nursing cover, all of which we pay for, which I don't mind but I wonder how it's all going to work out.

A dark cloud in an otherwise blue sky.

Photo and text by email

Photo and text by email, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

I've worked out how to email a blog entry with a photo. The layout,

or rather the formatting, is still weird as you can see. I have no

idea where all those double spaces come from, I'm not typing them!

If you know how to get rid of them PLEASE tell me. But this is what

I've done.

Open a free Flickr account, for which you need a free Yahoo address.

Go into your account settings, navigate to email, and you'll see it

allows two options. You can email photos directly to your Flickr

account, and you can also have them sent, along with text, to a

Blogger account. Flickr generates an email address to which you to

send them. There are a couple of bits of going back-and-forth

between them while they set up permissions for one to "talk" to the

other but it was astonishingly simple. Even for me.

Sea Kayak Safety DVD

Unless you’re a highly accomplished kayaker with an arsenal of rescue and self-rescue techniques, this DVD has one overwhelming thing going for it; you get to watch an expert perform a range of these manoeuvres in rough water. For this reason alone, it’s worth having in the collection. It costs £24.99 from Rock and Sea Production.
It has been out for a couple of years but the content has not dated. I just got hold of a copy and there must be others in the same situation.

First some background; I’ve been sea kayaking for only a few years, but I’ve been making TV programmes for more than twenty. There are aspects to this production which are excellent and others I think could easily be improved. But none of these obscure the teaching points the production delivers.

Let’s start with its USP. Its unique selling point is that you can watch, over and over again, rescue techniques on calm water and rough water. The viewer is first talked through each technique in a calm bay, then shown the footage again in slow motion with freeze-frames and captions (written text) to emphasise the key points. Then it moves into rougher water and the process is repeated, with a full speed demonstration followed by a repeat with freeze frames and learning points. This is highly effective.

We’ve all attempted an x-rescue in a sheltered bay, only to discover it’s a very different experience when waves are breaking into the cockpit. On the DVD I watched techniques I’d never previously seen and refinements to ones I had. I thought the rough water camerawork outstanding, especially the sequences shot from a boat. I would have preferred each rescue to have its own chapter so I could find them faster to watch again.

The other sections of this DVD are quite different and mainly consist of a man talking straight to camera. The information is good but this is not riveting television.

A coastguard talks about the work he does and how it relates to sea kayaking; Leo Hoare talks us through towing systems; Olly Sanders discusses what to carry on a PFD; and an RNLI crewman explains how the organisations helps us.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh. There are some interesting “overlay” pictures of a helicopter and life boat at work and the towing section is enlivened with an on-the-water presentation about how to rig a tow with examples of different towing systems in use. Once again, this is far more informative than photographs in a book. The producers could use various television techniques to make these more engaging because my overwhelming recollection of these chapters is of men talking at me.

It’s only fair to admit that most TV producers can pick faults in any production and with hindsight I suspect the producers of this DVD would be equally critical. They’re filming another DVD this summer, about kayaking in rough water, and I’m confident it will be even better. I stick with my original assessment; this DVD is worth buying.

Solar Power - Partial Success

The picture here is misleading. This set-up won't charge a mobile phone I have discovered.

Winter in the west of Scotland is not the place to test solar chargers but even on a gloomy day my multi-meter shows some charge coming out of this system. However, not enough for a phone.

This is a simple, cheap package, bought for about £9 in Maplin’s electronic store. It’s a small plastic box with a molded handle and a lid that is also a 7 volt solar panel.

Inside are grooves in which batteries locate. It takes AAA, AA, C or D size but requires four batteries of the same size and brand each time. First results show it works, but not particularly swiftly. There again, sun has been in short supply.

There’s a blocking diode to prevent reverse charging and an extension lead which can be connected to small electrical devices. Despite fitting Liz's old Nokia telephone the output is too small to charge it.

My plan is to put the unit in an Ortlieb map case on the back deck when touring.

If you want a more effective set up, Axel has written about his and, in the comments, answered a few of my questions.

Tonight the Fallas Burn

At midnight tonight, throughout the Valencia region of Spain, giant cartoon statutes will be set on fire to mark the festival of San Jose, Saint Joseph. 

The photographs were taken last weekend in the town of Denia, while the article appeared in The Sunday Times in 2001.

Juan Llantada pulled a face, not unlike an iguana, and offered some advice; "During the ten minutes of the Mascaleta you must keep your mouth slightly open, like this" he said, repeating his reptilian contortion. "It will prevent the explosions damaging your inner ears".  Continues

New Podcast - Arctic Voice Expedition

Richard Cree talks us through the planning of Arctic Voice a two-summer expedition to paddle the North West passage and record conversations with indigenous people.

In the last Podcast we heard about sponsorship from a company’s viewpoint. Here Richard explains how he helped to secure sponsorship for this expedition as well as describing what promises to be an amazing adventure in 2007.

Listen and subscribe free here or download directly from the Podcast Library.

Kayak Safety Flag Pt 3 (Final?)

As previously explained, I'm trying find the law which governs how kayaks must be made visible when carried on a roof rack. Think of it as a hobby...

The Department for Tranport sent a fact sheet yesterday which suggests if a kayak extends 1-2m from the rear of the vehicle, then the "end must be clearly visible". Does this require lights at night? I e-mailed back.

As I suspected, the definition of "clearly visible" is ambiguous. This is the reply in full.

Dear Mr Willis

Please find attached our fact sheet which summarises the regulations relating to overhang on vehicles.

The Regulations do not specify the type of warning required if the projection is between 1m and 2m - it only requires that the projection shall be "clearly visible to other persons using the road within a reasonable distance, in the case of a forward projection, from the front thereof or, in the case of a rearward projection from the rear thereof and, in either case, from either side thereof."

Yours sincerely
Jillian Smith

DfT - Transport Technology and Standards

Now someone from the forum is trying to find out more.

Early start tomorrow - I'm flying to Spain tomorrow until Sunday to help my poorly old Mum move out of an old folks home and back into her house.

Kayak Safety Flag Pt2

I'm still trying to reach a satisfactory understanding of how British law requires us to highlight our kayaks while in transit.

It was finding the New Zealand regulations which started me down this road. There have been some useful, but as yet inconclusive, comments on that post and on the UK Sea Kayak Guidebook forum.

I e-mailed the Department for Transport and today received a Word Document copy of its fact sheet. Sadly, it is also inconclusive.



If a load projects up to one metre, either forwards or backwards, no action is required.
If a load projects 1-2 metre forwards, no action is required.
If a load projects 1-2 metres backwards, "End must be made clearly visible. Para 4 Sch 12"
For details consult regulation 82 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986: SI 1986 No. 1078 as amended.

As most sea kayaks will project backwards 1-2 metres, then their "ends must be made clearly visible". What does that mean? High-viz markers like the Kari-tek one in the photo sent to me by Cailean? Lights at night?

I've e-mailed back to ask for a definition of "clearly visible"

New Podcast - Sponsorship

Bob Campbell Marketing Director of P&H Sea Kayaks, Pyranha and Venture Kayaks talks about how to approach him, or any other manufacturer, for sponsorship. Also - what he wants in return.

You can listen and Subscribe free to the Podcasts here (it works best if you have iTunes). Or you'll be able to download this Podcast and many more from the Podcast Library. If you want to make sure you don’t miss one, but don’t want to subscribe, sign up to the RSS feed on the front page of the website

Bulkhead Foam

Liz and I have replaced the foot pegs in my boat with a foam bulkhead.

She has much more ability in the arts-and-crafts department, so she worked out the template and cut most of the foam to size.

It would have been very easy were it not for the tubes under the deck. The previous owner, Douglas Wilcox, had the boat tricked out with two pumps, a Henderson deck mounted bilge pump and an electric pump. I've since removed the electric pump but the tubing is still in place.

The boat has a curious provenance and might be one of the original Quests. The sticker in the cockpit calls it a “Capella Explorer” and the word "Explorer" is etched into the seat.

It originally belonged to Mike Thompson of Scottish Paddler Supplies, who tells me it was a demo boat, which he named “Sea Quest”. He said he encouraged P&H to come up with a more distinctive name than “Capella Explorer”, so they borrowed part of the name he’d used on this boat. The “Quest” was born.

I’ve left the rails in place to avoid having the bare screws stick into my legs or puncture my dry-suit.

Does it work? It’s too early to tell. I’ll get back to you.

Kayak Safety Flag

I found this on the website of the Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers. Does anyone know if there’s similar legislation in the UK (or Norway where we’re headed in August)?

If I'm reading this correctly, in NZ if you have a kayak overhanging your car by more than one meter, you must put a flag of regulation size on the end of kayaks during the day and lights at night. This is how they illustrate that.

This is from the Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers website

Legislation The New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority states: "Loads which overhang the outside of the body or deck of the vehicle by more than one metre to the front or rear, or more than 200mm to the left or right side need to carry special warning devices attached to the overhanging end(s)…/ vehicles may carry loads which are higher, longer or wider than the dimensions of the vehicle itself provided that the vehicle doesn't exceed the maximum permitted dimensions for that class and type of vehicle."

During the hours of daylight, there must be either:
* a clean white, or fluorescent red, orange or yellow flag, at least 400 mm long by 300 mm wide, or
* a frangible hazard warning panel, at least 400 mm long by 300 mm wide showing an orange diagonal stripe (200 mm wide) against a yellow green background, facing forwards or rearwards.

During the hours of darkness, the flags or hazard panels must be replaced with lights attached to the load as follows:
* for loads over one metre wide and extending more than one metre from the rear of the vehicle, one red lamp (facing toward the rear) on each side of load
* for loads up to one metre wide and extending more than one metre from the rear of the vehicle, one red lamp (facing toward the rear) at the centre of load
* for loads over one metre wide and extending from the front of the vehicle, one white or amber lamp (facing toward the front) on each side of load
* for loads up to one metre wide and extending more than one metre from the front of the vehicle, one white or amber lamp (facing toward the front) at the centre of load
* for loads extending more than 200 mm beyond the side of the body of the vehicle, one red lamp (facing toward the rear) on each side of the load at the rear and one white or amber lamp (facing toward the front) on each side of the load at the front.

These lights need to be clearly visible in clear weather at a distance of at least 200 metres during the hours of darkness. This applies to all vehicles, no matter when they were first registered.

Ultra-light gear test in TGO

I have always been interested carrying as light a backpack as possible. It was while preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2002 (Journal) that Liz and I started getting into what’s now known as ultra-light hiking.

The summer before that trip, I took part in a test of ultra-light equipment for TGO Magazine (The Great Outdoors). The deputy editor John Manning carried his usual weekend backpacking sack of about 32lbs while I carried equipment that largely came from the company Chris Townsend, was the gear wasn’t then right for UK conditions.

Last October the same team decided to re-create that test with a three day walk through Moidart. Since 2001 John and I have, separately, walked the PCT and developed our interests in light-weight gear. I’ve also got into mountain marathons. The April issue of TGO Magazine is out now and Chris Townsend once again studies what’s changed. In short, there is now plenty of ultra-light gear suitable for UK conditions.

The Next Trip - part 2

I love the way the web works.

Within an hour of writing that we intend to paddle in the Helgeland area of Norway I received an e-mail from Erik in Sweden. He has paddled there with his partner Pia and a group of friends and he sent me links to their trips.

They paddled here in 2004, 2005 and 2006

The text is in Swedish but as Erik told me, “the pictures are international I hope”. Erik also said “I'm not an expert on the area, but I love it!”

I can see why. I want to go right now!

I’ve reproduced a few of Erik’s photos here with his permission. You’ll find a lot more on his website which also appears to have a link to their own kayak t-shirt shop featuring Pia's designs.

Erling also reminded me about Grazie’s excellent Skoogle site where I found this interactive map of the area we’re going.

So, I repeat. I love the way the web works.

The Next Trip

“What’s your favouritie trip”, is the question part-time travel writers like me get asked. My reply is always the same, “The next one.” I’m definitely not a last minute type person. So where are we headed in 2007?
At first we wanted to go to Greenland but then agreed we needed more kayak expedition experience. Our current plan for this summer is to paddle across the Arctic Circle in a part of Norway called Helgeland. I say “current” because this trip has gone through several iterations.

Courtesy of Google Earth

For some reason Norway seemed the next best choice, but that’s one heck of a coastline. Which bit should we paddle?

My original idea was to just wheel the boats onto the DFDS ferry, wheel them off in Bergen, plonk them in the water and paddle North. I’m still not sure why we rejected that plan, but Liz fancied somewhere else. And we’d need the car.

The Lofoten Islands are deservedly popular, but we didn’t fancy the twenty four hour drive and ferry to get there as it would eat into our two week holiday. I contacted someone in the Norwegian Sea Kayak Association who recommended Helgeland. It had hundreds of islands and was an undiscovered gem. Only problem was, it was a little too far North. Back to Google Earth.

Until a week ago we were planning to paddle from Songnefjord to Alesund, and I put a request on the UK Sea Kayak Guide Book to see if there was anyone with maps of this area they could be prepared to loan on sell me.

The response was terrific. I was e-mailed a set of Mapsource maps to the area (which I suspect are bootleg) and lots of offers of charts, but not for that area. Then I heard from Erling. In the nicest possible way he pointed out that our route would take us around “The Stadt”. He sent me the wave pattern below (black lines) and areas of confused, dangerous sea (red areas).

I’d spotted this prominent headland but hadn’t fully appreciated how serious an undertaking it could be. Erling asked a couple of questions on the Norwegian Sea Kayaking forum and passed the replies to me. We decided to pass on Stadt.

So were to go? For the second time, an experienced Norwegin sea kayaker came up with the same suggestion, Helgeland. It’s a long drive, at least fourteen hours behind the wheel, but the Google Earth images show a maze of tiny islands that look like being fun to paddle. We’ll cross the Arctic Circle in our boats and when we’ve gone as far North as we want to go, we can carry the kayaks onto the Hurtigruten coastal ferry and ride back to the car.

At least, that’s the plan for now.

From the mountains to the sea

Is history repeating itself? Duncan Winning recently told me how, in the early days, canoe-ists came from a mountaineering and hill walking background. 

No-one knows for sure, but in my personal experience the rise in popularity of sea kayaking seems, once again, to be with people with a mountaineering rather than paddling pedigree. 

This reminded me of an article I wrote shortly after getting into kayaking for The Herald newspaper and was published on 12th Feb 2005.  Continues

Duncan Winning OBE

The British Museum has the skeleton of a dinosaur hanging from its ceiling. By contrast, the bare bones of an ancestor of many of our kayaks are hanging from the girders of an old factory in Johnstone, just outside Glasgow.
That is (or was) a 'Queensferry', designed by John Marshall of Queensferry, and identical to the boat in which Seaumas Adam became the first person to paddle solo across the Minch in 1935. He was one of the two Canoe Boys who paddled from the Clyde to the Cuillin in 1934. I would know nothing about the boat were it not for the man in the picture.

He is, of course, Duncan Winning, Honorary President of the Scottish Canoe Club, and OBE for services to kayaking.

If a kayaking encyclopedia grew arms and legs it might look like Duncan Winning, but it wouldn't be able to talk anywhere near as well. I've recorded our conversations and, as soon as it's edited, it will make a compelling podcast.

Duncan also gave me some 35mm slides of the Queensferry in action, being paddled on Loch Lomond. they came to him through the Scottish Hostelling Canoe Club.

In those days sea-canoing was a summer sport. It kept mountaineers entertained while there was no snow on Scotland's hills. Without exception, sea canoe-ists came from a mountaineering background. Sound familiar? The current rise in popularity of sea kayaking also seems to be coming from those who've previously tramped the hills.

Back to the future.

Duncan agreed to show me the boat as part of the preliminary research for a project this summer. That's why I'll also be spending tomorrow afternoon back in the archive section of the Mitchell Library, which promises to be far less entertaining.

I'll write more about this project as it takes shape.