Because it's There

A record number of people cimbed Mt Everest this season. 514 so far and there are still teams on the mountain. It's getting as busy as a Munro!

Reading this reminded me why I enjoy sea kayaking. After my first trip into Loch Scavaig with Gordon Brown of Skyak Adventures I wrote this for The Herald.

"It feels like hill-walking as it used to be, before Munro bagging reached epidemic proportions. There's that long-lost sensation of humility in the face of powerful natural forces. Overnight camps return to being special times in isolated places. Best of all, you never follow a well-worn trail. No one ever left a footprint on a wave."

Names and Faces

One of the best bits about last weekend on Skye was putting faces to names. I managed to grab quite a few interviews, so over the coming months there'll be Podcasts from some knowledgeable kayakers.
Here are some of the people with whom I've recorded podcasts. I've a lot of editing to do...
Richard Cree
Shaun Caven

Jim Kennedy

Brian Wilson

Howard Jeffs

Kevin Mansell

Nigel Dennis

Patrick Winterton

Robin Ruddock

Nigel Foster

Aled Williams (talking to Wenley)

Doug Cooper

Monday - Symposium End

It ended, not with a whimper, but with a bang!

The coastguard came to demonstrate flare firing. I was poised with my wide angle lens, close to someone who was about to fire a white parachute. Watching from the upstairs window, Gordon Brown had assembled a second crowd, partly to watch the flare, mainly to watch me. "See how high he jumps when that flare goes off", he told the assembled group.

About four feet.

What the didn't see was me switching to a 200mm telephoto for the rest of the flare firing.

Here are a few photos.

So that's it. Full reports in all good magazines soon, and on 1st June a Podcast with Aled about the new In-Uit boat and the views of a 5* paddler who took it out.

Sunday night - Symposium

I haven't written much today because, as I was advised by a friend who was reading this site, I was in danger of forgetting to enjoy this symposium!

Enjoy it I am. Discovery learning is something I've known about for a while, but Nigel Foser delivers it in a very special way. A morning with him, and I think I'll never look at my paddle in quite the same way. It's hard to put into words quickly in a blog, but I've recorded a chat with him which will hopefull do it justice.

I watched Nigel Dennis' slide-show on "exotic locations", including Antarctica and Easter Island, learnt a little about Greenland boats, and had Howard Jeff discuss the finer points of night paddling.

I'd Patrick Winterton's slide show about his Scottish Extremities tour, an amazing route from Glasgow to Muckle Flugga at the top of Shetland, via St Kilda. When he presented it at the Storm Gathering on Mull it was impressive, with a little bit of video in the middle. Patrick had actually shot the whole trip on video and this time, after a "live" introduction, he played this DVD which really was well done. A question-and-anser session followed, with a popular question being, "where can I buy the DVD".

I'll try to record a Podcast with Patrick tomorrow morning.

7.30 am Sunday - Symposium

Not a bad morning. The forecast seems better than many parts of the UK. Check the live shot from webcam on the right to see if it deteriorates during the day.

I've quite a few sessions to attend today, so there won't be as many updates. Which is probably a relief to some folk!

Saturday night - symposium

Nigel and Kristin Foster just gave a great slide show.

You can read the whole thing and see the photos on his website

Now... party time.

15.00 Saturday - Symposium

With Nigel Foster's morning session being postponed, the most popular morning session was forward paddling with olympic coach Shaun Caven.

He and Jim Kennedy tried to marshall an unweildy group of 31 kayakers.
It was far too many to actually be coached, but they delivered some top tips. Best of all was to watch them paddle, only to later learn this is only the fourth time Shaun has paddled a sea kayak.
I shot some video on the water which really shows Shaun's style, but I've spent forty muinutes trying to get it onto YouTube, but each time it has failed.
It will have to wait. I'm off to hear all about Whales and Dolphins with Robin Ruddock

Lunchtime Saturday - Symposium

Aled's new In-Uit kayak is here. We've seen pictures before. Now here's some video. I've recorded a podcast with Aled about the boat, and Richard Cree gives me an assessment of the new boat after a short paddle. Look out for that in a weeks time.

08.40 Saturday - Symposium

Some news.
Ocean Paddler is the title of a new Sea Kayak specific magazine coming out soon in the UK.
The editor is Richard Parkin, formerly of Paddles magazine, and Bertie is involved too.
Here he is showing off his new jacket. The typeface on the jacket is not the same as the masthead. We'll see the first edition in a couple of months.
This morning's "Fun with Foster" session, run by Nigel Foster and probably the most popular session on the sigh-up sheets, as turned into what Gordon Brown called this morning, "Farce with Foster".
It's not all that bad. Watch the video for more.

Friday Night - Symposium

A bit of a scramble after the slide shows tonight.

There are about 160 delegates here and most wanted to sign up to paddle with Nigel Foster tomorrow. He's the one who's still en-route from Helskini!

Still we formed an orderly queue and got our names down on the list. I also had a chat with Wenley, blogger of this parish.

Not sure when I'll get to make an entry tomorrow as I'll be on the water with Nigel early. But I'll update when I can.

Earlier I saw Pete Orton of Valley Sea Kayaks "playing" on a Greenland rope frame he built recently. This video is Pete in action.

Friday Evening - Symposium

Well, it has started. Just!
It's traditional that things go wrong at the start of a symposium, but this one has been blessed with more than it's fair share of mis-haps. Mostly they effect controbutors rather than participants.
One was stuck in Helsinki after SAS Airline went on strike, but should make it here in the wee hours. Another had a tyre blow out. Someone else's engine caught fire. And a fourth had a tyre blow out and spent most of the day getting it fixed.
After the welcome talk, we've been sent out for ten minutes while six, ten minute slide shows are prepared. The chap I was sitting with at dinner was asked - "do you have slides in your van!". "Yes, why?" "Can you do ten minutes".
I'm about to go and see what it's like.

Friday Afternoon - Symposium

The exhibitors are starting to arrive at the symposium, but there's still an hour to go before registration opens. It feels lke the calm before the storm!

However, my weekend is already complete.

I've just bought the new copy of The Canoe Boys which has some excellent photos and newspaper cuttings in it. Ninnian Dunnett has apparently raided his Dad's archive to find all the material, and this is a larger format book.

There are also some "new" old words from Alastair Dunnett himself.

Take this passage from the introduction. Back in 1934, Alastair wasn't happy with his job as a bowler-hatted junior bank clerk and felt truly happy about the hills. His journal entry for the final night of a snowy May hike was:

"Tomorrow my feet will walk a city's pavements. Tomorrow I shall know again the full horror of respectability. Tomorrow, pilloried in collars, surmounted by unyeilding headgear, I shall prepare to shoulder again my infinitesimal burden of responsibility in the financial transactions of a wearied world. But tonight - tonight I am free. I am cold. I shall probably soon be wet. But I am happy. And to the servants of nature who have made me so - to the rain, the snow, the smoke of my fire, to the sun's brief appearance, to the cukoo, whose song has haunted me since my start - to them all, my heart sings "Good night".

You can order the book from Neil Wilson Publishing and read about the radio programmes I'm making about the journey at

Symposium - Thursday

I've added a live BBC webcam to the side-bar.

It's located on the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, which is the venue for the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium, and looks out across the Sound of Sleat towards Knoydart.

I don't imagine you'll see lots of sea kayaks in shot, but you ought to be able to see the weather we're either enjoying or enduring.

Symposium 2005

Click the link for a larger view of the webcam, which is much easier to watch.

Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium - This Weekend

If you're not going to Skye, you might want to see what you're missing. Here's the three-day programme as downloads from the symposium site:
Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Over the weekend you can read about the event on this blog.

Provided I can make the technology work, I'll blog from the symposium with photos and video.
If you are going to the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, you'll know registration is on Friday 16.30-22.45 with late-comers asked to contact the college on 01471 888000.

Full details are on the Symposuium website.

Canoe Boys - The Article

I've written an article for Paddles magazine about our Canoe Boys radio programmes. With Cailean I'm making three for Radio Scotland in June.

You can find a version of the article on the website.

Another team is paddling the whole route this summer raising money for the British Lung Foundation and are well worth support.

This latest edition of the book can be pre-ordered from Neil Wilson Publishing.

New Podcast - Clyde Coastguard

This is Bill Speirs, watch manager at Clyde Coastguard, and the man to whom you're ultimately very grateful when he organises and coordinates the search which finds you and pulls you out of the sea.

I was nice to him.

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

Bill was good enough to give me a couple of hours of his time and answer not only my questions but others suggested by users of the UK Forum. My apologies to those whose questions didn't make the final edit due to reasons of space. These podcasts have to be of a manageable duration for listeners.

Kayakers who've been worried that hand-held VHF signals might not get the same level of response now the CG no longer maintaining a "headphone watch" of Ch 16 will learn something.

The Ch16 operator almost always wears their headphones, and the operator on duty the day I visited explains why.

Look at the photo of the Clyde control room. The person with their back to camera is sitting at the Ch16 desk, wearing headphones.

This podcast is longer than normal, but I've encoded it at a lower bit-rate (56) so the file size is smaller and it'll whizz onto your computer faster.

Steve Croft, another working coastguard, sent me some handouts he gives to visitors. I've scanned these so they can be downloaded at PDF files. Cailean Macleod, a vlunteer Coastguard, prepared a map of Scotland with CG masts and broadcast times. They're all below.
Right click the links below and on a PC "Save Target As" or on a more sensible Mac, "Download Linked File".

Distress Calls
Radio Calls
Phonetic Alphabet

Even More Canoe Boys!

This is Iain Macdougall. By coincidence, he's also paddling the Canoe Boys route this summer. Well, something close to it.

Iain and his friend Chris Bell plan to paddle from the Erskine Bridge (over the Clyde) to the Skye Bridge in July and raise money for the British Lung Foundation. You can sponsor them here.

The original Canoe Boys of 1934 chose an "inside route" up Seil Sound, and this is the one I'll follow with Cailean Macleod as we make three documentaries for Radio Scotland. This is our rather basic website.

Chris and Iain are taking a more sporting line! "Our intended route will takes us through and past the Isle of Bute, Sound of Jura, Mull and the Sound of Sleat before crossing the finishing line at the Skye Bridge", says Iain. And he might not stop there, telling me "all being well I am thinking about paddling over to Loch Maddy to visit my gran."

Iain hadn't heard of the original Canoe Boys until he listened to the Podcast I recorded with Duncan Winning. After a year planning the trip it must have come as a shock to discover two other lads did it seventy three years earlier.

I'll be shouting about the transmission dates of our radio programmes nearer the time, so even if you can't do the trip yourself, you'll be able to hear what it's like.

Cute Chicks

Ok, absolutely nothing to do with sea kayaking.

But our neighbours have a croft near our house. The other day we visited and found this box of newly hatched chicks ontop of the Aga staying warm. Others were popping out of eggs in the incubator while we were there. Huge ahhh factor. Just don't mention Colonel Saunders.

Praise for Yak

I can be grumpy. You may have noticed.

If things aren't right, or service is below standard, I will complain. Good service should be the norm. But the cosmic Ying and Yang requires balance. So when I receive exceptionally good service, then to avoid turning into an utter grouch, I ought to praise.

Step forward Crewsaver, the UK distributors of Yak Adventure Equipment.

For the last year I've carried an inflatable paddle float behind the seat of my boat just in case the re-entry-and-roll doesn't work. It rarely does. While dunking the equipment the other day I noticed both inflation chambers leaked. There were holes at the edge where the float was folded, which I thought I could patch, but in another area the fabric seemed to be disintegrating. I e-mailed Crewsaver to ask if they could repair it and they said, "send it in". Within a week a replacement arrived free of charge.

Good one Yak. I've asked for your brochure and after service like that, I'll consider buying more of your gear.


I just picked up the current version of this book, which normally costs £26.95, for just £14.95 at the local Oxfam book shop.


Washed Up Rubbish - Video

We managed to get out for a paddle on Saturday (see Knoydart Coast) without completely wrecking my shoulder. We launched at Mallaig and went north across the mouth of Loch Nevis to Airor, just past Doune. On the way back I landed briefly just north of Mallaig amongst a lot of rubbish washed up on the shore. Mostly it was fish boxes and plastic drums.

I grew up in a fishing village, and I know lots of items are accidentally lost overboard while working at sea. But when you see it gathered in one place, so close to a major working port, you have to wonder whether it's not excessive.

New Podcast - Northumberland

This is Ollie Jay and he's lucky enough to live in a fabulous part of the world.

Of course, I'm biased.

I was born in and grew up in Northumberland. I always thought I lived in "The North" until I came to Scotland and found myself thinking of home as "down south".

It was climbing, backpacking and mountain biking which occupied my time there, not sea kayaking.

Although I've taken a boat out to the Farne Islands on several occasions, I've yet to experience them from a sea kayak.

Ollie runs Active4Seasons and was among the first people I recorded. We spoke at the Storm Gathering on Mull last October, which was before I'd established in my own mind how long these podcasts would be.

Most are now about 25 minutes and Ollie's is considerably shorter. But it's good.

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

Rotor Cuff

And I thought it was something to do with a helicopter.

I've not written much about it, but since the New Year I've had a sore shoulder, particularly after paddling and yoga. I've seen the GP and chiropractor before visiting the Sports Medicine Centre at Hampden Park. A physiotherapist put my shoulder into a range of positions and dignosed a rotor cuff injury.

I slouch. That's probably what's done it. So I have a big eleastic band and strict instructions on how/when to use it. Three times a day, thirty repetitions per exercise. Hurts like hell.

Is it meant to? Should I go paddling this weekend? I forgot to ask, so I've e-mailed to check. I could do without this, just in time for our Canoe Boys trip.


There are parts of Scotland’s west coast where hand-held VHFs are out of range, there’s no mobile phone signal and it’s unlikely anyone would see a flare. Sometimes all three.

Should a safety conscious sea-kayaker consider carrying an Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or a the new, smaller Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)? I asked a question like this two years ago after listening to a talk by a Stornoway Coastguard at the Skye Symposium.

It prompted a lively thread on the Forum which I’ve recently re-visited after discovering the McMurdo Fast Find for £249.

However as contributors to the forum pointed out, the accuracy and speed of response seemed much better in the McMurdo FastFind Plus for £399.

I e-mailed the McMurdo to check if there really was such a difference. There is.

The FastFind (non-GPS) version has a 45 minute speed-of-alert and 5 km accuracy, which puts your location somewhere inside a 20 square kilometer box.

The FastFind Plus (GPS version) has a 3 minute speed-of-alert and 50 meter accuracy. For a sea-kayaker in trouble, probably in the water, there’s no real contest. It would have to be the GPS version.

I’ll start saving.

This is the information sent by McMurdo:

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. They do this by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency. This message is relayed via satellite and earth station to the nearest rescue co-ordination centre.

406 MHz EPIRBs and PLBs work with the Cospas-Sarsat polar orbiting satellite system which provides true global coverage. The system has an alert delay of typically 45 minutes dependant on when the satellites come into view on the horizon.

The satellite can determine the position of your Smartfind E5 EPIRB or Fastfind PLB to within 5km (3 miles). The coded message identifies the exact vessel to which the E5 is registered or the person the Fastfind PLB is registered to. This information allows the rescue services to eliminate false alerts and launch an appropriate rescue.

The GPS enabled Smartfind Plus G5 406 MHz EPIRB and Fastfind Plus PLB have built-in transmitters that will alert the rescue services in typically 3 minutes, giving typical positional accuracy of about 50 metres, and positional updates every 20 minutes.

Both the Smartfind EPIRBs and Fastfind PLBs also have a secondary distress transmitter. This transmits on 121.5 MHz and is used for "homing" purposes. When the rescue services get close, this allows them to direction find on the signal. To cater for searches at night, the Smartfind EPIRBs have a high brightness LED flashing light that aids final visual location.