Canoe Boys - almost Doune

We have had the most amazing good weather while we have been recordng this series of radio programmes. A little too good!

Two weeks ago we rounded Ardnamurchan Point in a flat calm. Not much excitement there. Now, as the rest of the UK struggles with torrential rain and flooding, Skye resolutely remained dry right up until the moment we finished recording. Only now is there a midge-loving light drizzle.

We crossed the Sound of Sleat to the community at Doune. The story of the revival of the Knoydart community is well known in Scotland, but these folks are on the edge of a community on the edge. It's turning into a small-scale tourist trap.

Several yacht crews were booked in for dinner tonight and the boat was heading to Mallaig to pick up a ful compliment of visitors who stay in the lodge-type accommodation. Built by Liz and Andy with their own hands, these stone buildings, fully pannelled in wood, really are something.

What's more, they're fully aware that if they welcome too many tourists, the sheer weight of numbers will destroy the peaceful atmosphere people come looking for. They're determined to keep it at a sustainable level.

They also welcome kayakers. You can camp there, provided you're not part of a big group as there isn't much space. You can buy dinner or breakfast provided you let them know the day before on 01687 462656 or e-mail them via their website.

Tomorrow we're off through Kyle Rhea to finish the programmes under the Skye Bridge. I wonder what the original Canoe Boys would make of that?

Canoe Boys Part Two

Well that's a first! Making a programme about a classic sea kayaking trip and we haven't been on the water today. Good view from the B&B though. Even Mallaig looks good.

We're on Skye and into the second block of recording for the Canoe Boys programme. We're not repeating the entire route. We're just paddling key sections. And like almost all TV or Radio programmes with which I've been involved, we're not recording in strict chronoligical order.

So from Ardnamurchan Point two Mondays ago, we'll reach Doune tomorrow, then back to Sleat which we did today. Follow that? It'll work on radio. I hope.

Sleat is the hub of the Gaelic Cultuural revival. So we've been speaking to folks at the Gaelic College, including two women fronm Germany who've come here specifically to learn Gaelic. But Sleat is also one of the most expensive places in Scotland to buy a house. So while people want to come and work in this thriving area they can't afford to buy and there are few places to rent other than holiday cottages.

When the original Canoe Boys came this way in 1934 they wrote about "The Highland Problem". Principally this was based around de-population. In those days, the young men and women were 'pulled away' into the shipyards and offices of Glasgow as there was no work up here. Now there is work but they're being 'pushed away' to the cities and other places by lack of housing.

Perhaps this is the new Highland Problem?

Attention all bloggers!

On the front page of today's Financial Times is the headline "Rumour has it. Ignore word of mouth at your peril". The article also appears on the excellent
It demonstrates the combined power we users have to influence the market. The logic can be applied to kayaking gear and boats.
Click on the title below to read the article on the FT site.
I've also copied it below with full accreditation to the FT. Err, the cow is for no other reason than I like it.

How to work a rumour mill
By Robert Matthews

There is no gainsaying the power of word of mouth to make or break a new product. Just ask those who have been on the receiving end of consumer brickbats or bouquets. The UK-based mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse is still smarting from the consumer bad-mouthing prompted by its failure to handle inquiries about its now-notorious "free broadband forever" offer last year.

In contrast, a catfood launched at the same time by the UK petfood maker Masterfoods saw sales soar as a result of positive recommendations from consumers.

Marketing experts have long recognised the importance of both positive and negative word of mouth (WOM) to the fate of new products. But the advent of the web, internet forums and social networking sites has given WOM the power to turn a product from global hero to zero with frightening speed.

In what is already regarded as a classic case study, the 50-year reputation of the cycle locks made by US-based Kryptonite was undermined in just a few days in 2004 by one internet forum posting showing how the locks could be picked using a ball-point pen. The company had a free lock exchange programme in place in just eight working days - fast, but not fast enough to stop the whole world from knowing about the embarrassing design flaw.

"What the internet has done is to empower the consumer through blogs, forums and websites," says Paul Marsden of the marketing research agency "A recent study showed that word of mouth is now 50 per cent more important to consumers in making decisions than it was 30 years ago." According to Mr Marsden, the increasing reliance of consumers on word of mouth is being driven partly by distrust of standard advertising and partly by sheer information overload. "During the course of a day, people are exposed to thousands of adverts," he points out. "Word of mouth helps to cut through all that using personal recommendations."

Not surprisingly, there is mounting interest in understanding the word-of-mouth phenomenon. Consultancies specialising in such marketing methods are springing up and, say industry insiders, a UK equivalent of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, established in the US in 2005, is likely to emerge soon.

But companies thinking of dabbling in word-of-mouth methods should be wary. New research suggests that some long-held claims are at best misleading and sometimes just plain wrong.
Marketing gurus have long claimed that consumers are more likely to bad-mouth unsatisfactory products and services than to recommend good ones. This certainly makes sense: most people expect to be satisfied with their purchase, so they aren't likely to spend time telling everyone about it - unlike their disgruntled counterparts, who are happy to tell the whole world they feel let down.

While plausible, this supposed bias towards negative word of mouth is a myth, according to research about to be published by a team led by Robert East, professor of consumer behaviour at Kingston University. The team interviewed more than 2,000 people across 15 consumer categories, from coffee shops to credit cards. In each case, those interviewed were asked how many times they had recommended or advised against using the product or service in the previous six months. The results, about to appear in the International Journal of Research in Marketing, showed that in every sector people were more likely to tell others about good experiences than to warn about bad ones. "We found that across the 15 categories, positive WOM was more common than negative by an factor of 3 to 1," says Prof East.

Significantly, the team also found that brand leaders tended to generate most positive word of mouth, giving them a powerful advantage over potential competitors. In contrast, consumers who have abandoned a brand are especially likely to tell others about their bad experiences, and account for almost half of all negative word of mouth.

As a general rule, says Prof East, the consumers who spread negative word of mouth are also most likely to spread the positive variety - making them especially valuable to whoever can win them over.

Such findings contain useful marketing insights - such as not giving up on disgruntled users. Canny use of complaint logs and databases of current and lapsed customers will help identify those most likely to bad-mouth a product or service, says Prof East. And it is worth the effort: the negative word of mouth spread by consumers with bad personal experiences has a habit of "infecting" even those who have never tried the product. "And when negative word of mouth escapes from the user base, it really takes off," he says.

Mr Marsden agrees about the importance of combating negative word of mouth. "It may be less frequent than the positive variety, but there is more scope for doing something about it," he says. Research conducted by Mr Marsden for the London School of Economics in 2005 revealed that cutting the level of negative word of mouth about a product has almost triple the impact on sales growth as trying to boost levels of positive word of mouth by the same amount.

The impact is anything but academic. Mr Marsden and his colleagues found that companies with a poor balance of positive to negative WOM - in this study, Lloyds-TSB, J. Sainsbury, and T-Mobile - grew more slowly than their competitors over the period studied.

Whisper it quietly, but it seems word of mouth really does matter. Psst - pass it on.
The writer is visiting reader in science at Aston University, Birmingham

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Recycled Fleece

It looks just like a normal fleece. It's not.

From autumn 2007 all Polartec materials in the Berghaus range will be made from recycled fleece. Here's what they say about the process:

"The process to produce the new fabric begins with post-industrial waste, including yarn and fabric by-products. These are then made into polyester chips which are melted and purified before the molten mix is turned into a fibre. Once this fibre is spun into yarn, it can be made into the fabrics which appear in the new Berghaus Polartec® products."

Recycling fleece products isn't new. Patagonia and others have done it for some time. But it's good to see this company starting.

How do you get your old fleece to Berghaus to recycle? I don't know but I hope that's the next step.

Big Beast

Now this is a big boat!
After our paddle to Eigg and Muck we landed back at Rhu where this big beast was being loaded for a five day trip around the Small Isles.

It belonged to "Ed" from the Inverness club. He bought it for an extended trip to Patagonia.

Made by Paddling Perfection in New Zealand, it was first shipped to Patagonia, and then shipped back to the UK.

When I first saw it on the ground by my car I thought it was a double! But there are actually two large hatches behind the cockpit.

I'm not sure whether the sail is Ed's addition or whether it comes with the boat, but he could feather it to present a wide range of profiles into the wind. It makes the P&H Cetus look small...

P&H Cetus - Video

I doubt I'll need a black tie for the awards dinner - this is not the best film I've ever made!

However, if you haven't seen a P&H Cetus you might be interested in the shape and features of the demonstration model we're using on the Canoe Boys radio programme. Check if they're the same as production models.

There's discussion on aspects of this video on the UK Forum.

While paddling it feels like there's a lot of boat behind the cockpit, and it also feels wide up-front. It rides rather "wet" as it splashes down over waves. But it's easy to hold an edge and turns increddibly tight for a big boat. Liz in her LV Nordkapp could only just manage a tighter circle, and she's a better paddler than I am.

I'll probably have to return it after this coming weekend. I'll be sadder to see it go than the Quest LV we've also been using.

Newer video

P&H Cetus - how not to paddle

This is Ken Lacey of Sea Kayak Scotland playing with the new P&H Cetus while we were recording the Canoe Boys programme.

I've shot some other video of the Cetus for anyone who hasn't had a chance to see the boat close up, and I'll post it soon.

This weekend I paddled it for two days and was very impressed. On Saturday we were out near Ardnamurchan Point in choppy conditions while today we endured a head-wind down Loch Sunart. It's a fat, expedition boat but edges and turns much more easily than my Quest. And even I can stand on the back deck - just not as long as Ken manages.

Waterproof Bags for Recording Gear

So how do you keep recording gear completely dry when making a radio programme about kayaking?

We left it a bit late to answer this question, but our solution worked a treat. It goes back to a blog entry from last November when I wrote about food bags.

These were sturdy enough for the mini disc recorders. We slit a small hole in the bag, passed the mic cable through, then used strong black tape to seal the hole. The cable was bent back on itself, then another layer of tape applied.

Small personal microphones were sealed in condoms (we practice safe radio) and fastened just inside the top of our BAs with nappy pins.

I've been really impressed with the bags. One was a normal food bag, the other was slightly more expensive as it was meant to hold a phone or MP3 player on the beach. The sealing mechanism, which involves sliding a bar over the folded top, is impressively secure.

I tried using one of the big bags as a map case, and all was well until the rod accidentally snapped while ashore. It's longer than the small bags (obviously) so more vulnerable to breaking which off the water.

The company also makes big, sturdy zip-lock bags which are proving excellent at keeping dry parachute flares.

Pine Marten - Kits?

A digression from sea kayaking for those following the soap opera of the pine martens in our garden.

We thought two from last year (Gordon & Sarah) had been usurped by one (Oscar). We now think "Oscar" is Sarah in her summer coat. We bought a thin pamphlet from the mammal society which helped us piece together some of this.

If it is Sarah, she is leaving scat everywhere, perhaps marking teritory to keep Gordon away? She is gorging herself and, Liz noticed, taking food away from the garden. Perhaps she has young to feed? "Kits" or "kittens" I believe they're called.

So in true soap opera trailer style... cue deep voice-over:

"Is Oscar really Sarah? Has Gordon rejected her or is Sarah determined to be a single mother? Where are the missing babies? Tune in next time....

New Podcast - Franco Ferrero

If you haven’t read his book on Sea Kayak Navigation, you should.

Franco Ferrero was Head of Paddle Sports at Plas y Brenin and started publishing books as a side line. Now his business Pesda Press has cornered the market in kayak publications with a growing list of impressive titles.

Franco explains how Pesda started, where it’s going, and where that name came from.

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

Canoe Boys Photos

I haven't had a chance to look at my photos from our Canoe Boys recordings.

However, Cailean has posted a set on his Flickr site one of which I've posted alongside.
I'm about to chat to Ken Lacey of Sea Kayak Scotland near his home on Seil Island. Richard Else of Triple Echo Productions is enjoying his newly invented snack, cat-on-a-stick.

Separately there's a new podcast, unrelated to all this, coming out tonight.
Franco Ferrero talks about Pesda Press and plans for world domination of kayak publishing. It'll appear on

Two-thirds Done

Programme One and Two of the Canoe Boys documentaries for Radio Scotland are done and the start of programme Three is also recorded.

An early start saw us at Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on the British mainland, by mid-morning. Neither Cailean nor I had ever seen the sea here so quiet. With the lighthouse towering above us, I could get close enough to reach out and touch the very point.

Our producer was waiting for us on the old jetty and again the lack of swell meant we could get close enough for us to be recorded on the higher quality boom microphone as well as our individual mini-discs. Here we recorded the opening to programme Three, an opening which involved me getting wet!

We make no claim to be paddling all the Canoe Boys 1934 route. It would be wonderful to have the time to do so, but budgets and other pressures just don't allow. So cars and ferries are speeding us through the sections we've both previously paddled to get tot he next recording location.

Hopefully one day I'll be able to take a month of and, with Liz, paddle the whole way.

If there was ever to be such a thing as a "Scottish Sea Kayak Trail", then this would make a good one - "The Canoe Boys Kayak Trail". But I fear if such a designation was made, or such a guide-book written, then the campsites and infrastructure would suffer.

Found It!

We made an great discovery today.

The interviewee I wrote about last night turned out to be even better than I hoped. The whole of programme two of the Canoe Boys will be restructured around him, since he met and paddled with the original pair. Before we met we dived into Tobermory book shop and bought him a copy of the new edition of the Canoe Boys, complete with lots of extra photos. Cailean gave it to him as a gift.

During our conversation, we spoke about a remote farmhouse on the north coast of Mull. We wondered whether we'd be able to find it and were told it was unlikely since there'd been a lot of forestry planting.

We like a challenge. Back to the book shop for a more detailed map and off we went. And we found it!

A tree was growing from the centre of the building and ferms oozed out of the mortar as the forest gradually reclaimed the building, but the galbes and windows were intact. There was even the recognisable fire place and iron grate on which Seamus and Allistair cooked their dinner.

For the first time I found it hard to speak, which isn't good for radio, but I was rather choked up. This visual connection with the original canoe boys coming just after the personal connection from someone who met them was very moving.

Tomorrow we're off around Ardnamurchan Point to record the opening of programme three. I think I'll be getting wet. Deliberately.

Have We Struck Gold?

Half way through the first block of recording for the Canoe Boys radio programmes and I think we may have struck gold.

Today we were given the phone number of an elderly gentleman who, we were told, might have met the original Canoe Boys in 1934. I telephoned him this evening. Sure enough, he paddled around Tobermory Bay with them as a nine year old.

"It was a big occasion when the Canoe Boys arrived", he told me, "They were famous". I've arranged to meet him tomorrow morning at the same place.

I still can't upload photos from my camera's data card, I have to use the card from my Palm and shoot specifically for upload. Hence the rather boring photo of the Salen Hotel. However, Cailean used the internet connection in the cafe at Castle Duart, where we recorded this lunchtime, to upload some photos to his Flickr site.

Dorus Mor Doddle

What was I making a fuss about?

The Dorus Mor, Gaelic for "Great Door" has a deservedly fearsome reputation. Tide moves at 8knts spings, so the day after spring tide, and a forecasted Force 6 wind against it, we expected quite a ride.

I'm sorry I can't get one of the many photos taken on the water onto this blog - there's a data card conflict, so the picture shows the overnight resting place of our P&H Cetus and LV Quest behind our hotel.

We designed the day to be close to the channel early, watch for slack water, then go through when it was fast enough to be exciting yet manageable for me. According to the Imray, slack would be at 10.50 but the tide was still ebbing. The skipper of our camera boat, Sea Leopard reckoned it would turn nearer 11.20. He was right, but the wind was in the N.East and hardly moving the surface.

We went through. Flat. Boring pictures. Back out and try again later. About 12.20, an hour and a half after slack by our calculations, things were moving enought to give a little bounce with some interesting eddy lines.

We only had the boat for half a day, so through we went. Got the shots, loaded the boats back on board, and headed back to Crinan.

A little more recording at the Inn of the Trousers where we discovered the well-kent tale of it being the place where Jacobites changed from kilts (which were banned) to highland trousers, was demolished. Seems they had t take off their trousers to cross the ford, as there was no "Bridge over the Atlantic" then. So it just looked like they were changing. And possible a trouser-maker lived in the house. So many tales from history. It's great to get among them and explore - I hope they make the final edit.

Sent from Oban

We're on the road.

This afternoon we began recording the Canoe Boys radio programmes on the island of Seil. Ken Lacey (I'll add the link later) was our first contributor, and we chated to Ken on the bank and on the water.

We've worked out a way of getting decent quality sound by putting mics in condoms, pinning them to the BAs, and then putting the mini-disc recorders in waterproof food-bags stuffed inside the back pockets. We spent a bit of time making sure that system works. Seems OK. It'll need to be.

Tomorrow we start early with the Dorus Mor, a rather exciting tidal stretch which gets lumpy when the wind is against it from the North West. The inshore forecast promises 4-5 occacionally 6 from the North, so that's going to be interesting!

Still, we have a boat acompanying us. Which sounds like a great reassurance until you realise there's a cameraman on that boat filming for BBC-2 Scotland's Adventure Show. So if... sorry when... I end up in the water it'll become the focus of the feature. Great.

We're missing out the section in the Clyde and only paddling the highlights. This is a radio production not an expedition, more's the pity. So we're in Oban for two nights then on Sunday heading off to Mull for two nights based in Salen.

We're using two P&H boats, a LV Quest and a new Cetus. The Cetus is going down very well with Cailean and when Ken tried it today he was highly impressed. I'll try to get it for a paddle.

Arctic Voice Expedition Started

I've just spoken to Richard Cree as he sat in an airport departure lounge.

Richard has four days of travelling ahead of him to reach Arctic Canada. He's travelling with Stephen Doughty and Glenn Morris.

The expedition is called Arctic Voice because they plan to record interviews with indigenous people about the way life is changing, particularly in response to the changing climate.

They have arranged links with schools in the UK to emphasise the educational aspect of their project.

They're starting at Inuvik, in the Mackenzie Delta, travelling through Nunavut and ending at
Chesterfield Inlet. They're following the fabled North West Passage" over two summers, using Featurecraft folding kayaks and dog leds.

You can listen to Richard talk about preparations for the Arctic Voice expedition in a Podcast. You'll find that and many more in the Podcast Library.

Good luck to them.

Kayaking and Media

Media outside our sport is taking an interest in recent incidents in Scotland. Especially the deaths.

Scotland Live with Mhairi Stewart, a topical phone-in show on Radio Scotland, covered the subject today (Wednesday) with Gordon Brown of Skyak, David Rossetter of Stirling Canoes and Bill Speirs of Clyde Coastguard. There's an interview with Bill in the Podcast Library.

Radio Scotland has a Listen Again Facility and that link should take you direct to Wednesday's programme, which ought to be live until noon Thursday. The Sea Kayak item starts about twenty minutes in, but I can't work out how to fast forward.

I have a digital recording and I'm trying to find out if I can put it on my website.

Separately, Rob Edwards has posted a superb guide to the way the media works on his website. It's highly recommended for anyone who might have to deal with journalists.

Tapered Dry Bags

This is not an advert. It's a tapered, dry bag. Obviously.

The point is these things have a point. They fit in the pointy end of the sea kayak which otherwise goes unused, or becomes a trap for small objects stuffed down there.

Bruce and Mark at Lomo, who have a shop a quarter of a mile from where I'm writing this in Glasgow, do most of their business on-line. They have just received a new batch which cost £16. Experience suggests they will sell out fast.

Indeed, all their dry bags are excellent quality and a good price. That's not an advert, it's a recommendation from someone who uses them.

Contrast the Lomo prices to the Sea Line tapered dry bags which are undoubtedly good bags but which sell for around £45.

New Podcast - Dorset (and an apology...)

This is Mark Rainsley. Apologies if you were expecting to hear his podcast yesterday.

Click the video below to find out why it's late.

Mark is spending the summer writing a sea kayaking guide to the South West coast of England for Pesda Press.

Here, Mark selects his top three routes in Dorset, the area he calls home and which has a spectacular coastline, albeit very different from Scotland's west coast.

Listen to Mark here or download his Podcast directly from the Podcast Library.

Sent from Muck.

Sent from Muck., originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

From arisaig to Eigg then Muck hoping the weather lasts.

Forward Paddling Video

Something to practice this weekend. I shot this video of British Olympic coach Shaun Caven taking a forward paddling seminar on Skye. I've looped it twice progressively slowing it down. Sorry about the quality - I still haven't got the correct compression settings. I'll re-post when I have. But he still looks good...

Intro to Sea Kayaking

This is Patrick Winterton. Last year he paddled from Glasgow to the northern tip of Shetland via a very indirect route and involving some huge open crossings. It was the first time St Kilda to the Flannan Islands has been done.

Patrick's a great speaker, is selling a DVD of his trip, and I have a podcast with him to edit.

However, we also have a mutual friend. Patrick recently introduced him to sea kayaking. Now our friend assumes huge crossings are an everyday part of the sport. (He rolled on his second attempt).

His first trip without Patrick was a solo paddle from Arisaig to Eigg and back. Because no-one told him this was considered a quite a distance for a beginner, let alone as a solo trip, he didn't make a fuss about it. He just planned the tides, sorted his kit, paddled and had a great day out.

We're looking at Eigg for this weekend.

New Pine Martin

New to us, but is this Pine Martin new to the world?
We're a little confused with what's been happening to the Pine Martins which visit our garden. Apologies if this sounds like an episode of Coronation Street with Fur.

Last year we regularly saw one large PM (Gordon). Towards the end of the year and second, slightly smaller PM appeared (Sarah). We knew it was different as Gordon only had one eye. Liz even saw them together. We assumed it was male and female. Over winter we had fewer sightings.

This Spring we've seen nothing of Gordon or Sarah.

However, a third PM has appeared (Oscar). It is considerably smaller than both the others and we wondered if this was their offspring. Yet it seems too large and too confident for an animal born two months ago.

Could it be an infant from last year? Perhaps Gordon & Sarah are so engrosed in bringing up this years kits that Oscar has moved into their territory? Except males aren't supposed to have anything to do with rearing their young.

It's puzzling, but entertaining to watch Oscar growing in confidence and ability, spending longer on the bird table each time he comes, and only disappearing into the bushes with a big of bagel when he has finished everything else.

Oh, and he's a fast mover! Hence the blurred photo of him leaving the bird table.

Family Expedition Kayaking

This is Ingrid, Sean and their six year old daughter Kate. Last year they spent six months in thier kayak paddling the inside passage from Vancouver to Alaska.

Theirs was one of fourteen podcasts I digitised over this wet weekend, rather than go out paddling.

I play them off mini-disc into the computer to edit, then write, record and add a "top and tail". Liz will go through each, cutting out re-takes, fluffs and pauses.

That's going to take a couple of weeks, because we're about to start recording The Canoe Boys radio programmes.

I've tried to work out a schedule in which to release the Podcasts, and according to that draft, we'll hear from Sean, Ingrid and Kate in Spetember.

New Podcast - Aled Williams on In-Uit

Half of the Rockpool partnership talks about his brand new boat.

Aled Williams has struck out on his own and is designing In-Uit Kayaks, which are being made in Poland.

Listen to Aled here or download his Podcast directly from the new look Podcast Library.

Aled talks about why this boat has a skeg, how it's designed to perform, and all the other designs he plans for the range including a touring and Greenland style kayak. There are also a few photos of the boat.