Yesterday's newspapers screamed "Fat Nation".
New research showed Scottish people were, on average, the second most obese in the world. Only Americans were, on average, chubbier.
Today I spotted this in Edinburgh. Incidentaly, it's not only Mars Bars which are deep fried here. That's also how pizzas are cooked in some chip shops.
Just looking, you can feel your arteries harden.
An x-rescue later we were on a beach. Then we had to get across the bay to an exit from where I could hitch back to Arisaig.
Scotland is a top spot for canoeing on open water - with the right training and advice, writes Simon Willis.
I only wrote what follows:
It’s called a “boomer”, and depending on whether you’re prepared it can be fun or fatal. A vertical wall of water suddenly rears up in front of your kayak, hangs in space, then crashes down, battering your head, body, boat and paddle. Fighting through an upright lump of collapsing ocean gives a huge adrenalin rush, and provided you know what you’re doing it’s a wild ride. If you don’t, you can end up like the solo Dutch kayaker who, earlier this year, was found clinging to a rock surrounded by shattered pieces of his broken boat. I imagine his first words to the lifeboat crew which plucked him to safety were, “What was that?” Don’t worry, I’ll tell you before the end.
Scotland’s west coast is a world-class destination for this sport. The Inner and Outer Hebrides are to sea kayaking what Colorado is to skiing or the Red Sea is to diving. And the scattering of skerries and islands off Arisaig is one of the most perfect places on earth to paddle. This was the place I was introduced to sea kayaking in what looked like a giant plastic banana. Sat in the sixteen foot long, bright yellow boat, I placed one end of the paddle in the water and pulled. The boat eased forward. I dipped the other end of the paddle in the water and pulled again. I was sea kayaking.
Our group glided into a maze of tiny islands, whose number changes by the minute depending upon the state of the tide. Pure white beaches slipped from land into sea, reflecting the summer sun through the shallow water, turning it a shade of blue I’d previously seen only in the Caribbean. Inquisitive seals shot under the kayak like agile torpedoes, breaking the surface only to cast curious glances at the interlopers. Now I was hooked.
That was four years ago, yet only last month I experienced the same full-body thrill as I was buzzed by what the ancients would call a “sea monster”. We were kayaking off Iona when a basking shark cruised alongside. Longer and wider than my boat, its dorsal fin swept to within touching distance; the gentle giant was clearly as interested in us as we were in it. These special moments in special places reach to the very soul of sea kayaking, and for those who know, Scotland is a sweet spot on the planet.
It really is that easy to start, as hundreds of people discover every year. An instruction manual, published last December, was expected to sell seven hundred copies in its first year, but three thousand went in only six months. Its author is Gordon Brown, who runs Skyak Adventures on the Isle of Skye, but even he can’t explain why the sport has suddenly rocketed in popularity. “It’s all about freedom”, Gordon explained, “and no paths. I’ve had clients on the same piece of water three days this week and each time it was a completely different experience”.
Like me, many kayaking converts were hill walkers looking for new way to explore wild places. Fed up with crowded cairns and congested car parks at the top and bottom of Munros, there’s a palpable appeal to a sport where it’s impossible to leave a footprint. The ever changing sea means each trip is a fresh adventure. And since kayaks carry a lot more than rucksacks, camping can be almost a luxurious affair with wine, good food and open fires in fantastically remote locations. With the price of kayaks falling, it’s easy to see why so many people are hanging up their boots and picking up paddles.
However, there seems to be a deadly equation at work here. More people plus cheaper gear might equal more accidents. There have been four sea kayak-related deaths in Scottish waters this year, that’s more than most kayakers can remember in the last two decades, and an alarmingly high number for a sport which takes pride in its safety record. While not speculating about the circumstances of those individual tragedies, there are generalised concerns about the influx of newcomers to the sport.
“In skilled hands, a sea kayak is safe but in untrained hands may well prove lethal”, says Tony Hammock, a coach who runs Seafreedom Kayak from his home at Connel. He was speaking generally when he told me, “in the past, people came to sea kayaking via clubs, centres and through coaches. Kayaks were bought from specialists who themselves were expert paddlers. But now people with no experience are renting or buying kayaks from retail staff who may themselves understand little of the risks. People are heading for the sea with little idea of the situations that can arise and how to avoid them."
Then there’s e-bay. Rather than leave an old boat lying in the shed, an experienced kayaker can now sell it to a bargain hunter, who may only be looking for something cheap to mess about in on holiday. He won’t spend hours practicing rescue drills, learn about tides or carry flares. He won’t know what a “boomer” is until it reaches out of the sea and sucks him under. (I’ll tell you soon). To the authorities it’ll be another ‘kayaking tragedy’.
A few winters ago, an unusually high number of climbers were killed on the Scottish mountains. These deaths prompted calls for compulsory insurance until the rescue teams squashed the idea. Now there are fears that more sea kayaking accidents could bring similar demands to this sport, such as mandatory qualifications. The governing body, the Scottish Canoe Association (SCA), is trying to head off any problem with a voluntary solution.
“First point of contact with a potential sea kayaker is usually a shop”, says Dave Rossetter of the SCA, who also runs Stirling Canoes and Nevis Canoes. “Whether someone buys a boat on e-bay or through us, they eventually end up in a kayaking shop for some bits and pieces. That’s where we have to reach them and get information into their hands”. Dave is putting the finishing touches to an SCA leaflet which will give beginners sound “best practice advice” about how and where to get training.
But it will only be advice. Gordon Brown is a director of the SCA and told me, ““I cannot honestly tell people they must have training before they go paddling, because the truth is I had none,” he confessed. “I learnt as I kayaked. And I was lucky. If you’re unlucky, you’re a statistic”.
So what’s a boomer? Gordon Brown describes it like this, "When an isolated rock or reef has an occasional dumping wave break onto it, it is known as a ‘ boomer’. What happens is that the water pulls away from the reef, exposing the top then the next wave arrives and the crest explodes onto the bare rock. This is probably the worst place you could be with your kayak." Seen from kayak level, it’s like the Neptune’s hand thrusting out of the waves, then hurtling down to swat you in the face.
Sea kayaking is a seductively easy sport. Photographs are usually taken in the most benign conditions, because when its rough, both hands are on the paddle. While it’s easy to get started, its even easier to become complacent or take the sea for granted. It’s a mistake some people only make once.
They took their six year old daughter Kate with them as they kayaked the Inside Passage, from Vancouver to Alaska. Along the way they snapped some stunning wildlife photographs.
In this Podcast they talk about paddling with a small person, surfing the wave of a whale, and tackling a classic six month paddle.
Listen and subscribe free here or download directly from the Podcast Library.
The programme is taking shape for "PaddleFest", or Paddle '07 as it's known. I e-mailed the organisers last week to find out who'd be there as I was looking for potential Podcast interviewees. A couple of days later I find myself giving one workshop (about Blogging & Podcasting) and a Presentation about making our programmes on The Canoe Boys.
Here's a list of the current Presentations and Workshops lifted from the SCA Website.
10am ADVENTURES OF AN EXPEDITION PADDLER AND FILMMAKER Justine Curgenven
11am CANOEING AROUND THE CAIRNGORMS Robbie Nicol
12pm JOURNEYING SHARK BAY - WESTERN AUSTRALIA Chris Scott
1pm ABORIGINAL CANOES - THE BRITISH COLUMBIAN COAST Chris Cooper
2pm OPEN CANOEING IN SOUTH AFRICA Nancy Roberts
3pm JUSTINE MEETS THE QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS(UK PREMIERE !) Justine Curgenven
4pm TITLE TBC Patrick Winterton
5pm SCOTTISH CANOE ASOCIATION AGM
11am SEA KAYAKING IN SOUTH GREENLAND Shaun Roberts
1pm THE CANOE BOYS - THEN AND NOW Simon Willis
3pm AN INDIAN ADVENTURE Claire Scott and Dave Girling
10am AN INTRODUCTION TO WHITEWATER SAFETY Shaun Roberts
11am KAYAK FISHING Andy Winter / Ray Fill
12pm PATHWAY TO PERFORMANCE SCA Performance Director Kevin McHugh
1pm LOOKING AFTER YOUR KIT - TROUBLESHOOTING AND REPAIRS SURGERY Richard Cree
4pm HOW TO USE A VHF RADIO CONFIDENTLY Cailean McCloud
10.15am FISHING FROM A KAYAK Andy Winter and Ray Fill
12pm SCOTTISH SEA KAYAKING PHOTO EXTRAVAGANZA Doug Wilcox
2pm KAYAK REPAIRS Richard Cree
3pm WIRED KAYAKING Simon Willis
I also see my fellow Canoe Boy Cailean MacLeod is taking a workshop on using a VHF radio correctly (sorry 'confidently' - see below). I wonder if I can rope him into the Canoe Boys presentation...
We'd hoped to make an early start last Friday and head off to Applecross or Skye, but forecasts of Force 6-7 gusting 8 blew that plan out. We went hill walking here instead and enjoyed great weather. Should have been paddling....
Yesterday, it didn't seem to windy at home so we drove 40mins to Glenuig at the end of Lochailort. It was a little worse there.
If your're going to play the video, turn down the volume on your computer!
Subscribe free and listen to him here or download the interview with him directly from the Podcast Library.
Skegs hadn't changed very much over the years until Geoff designed the Hydro Skeg. As the name suggests, it works not by cable but by hydraulics.
Not content with that, and pushed forward in part by Nigel Dennis, Geoff combined the attributes of a skeg and a rudder. Here he explains how and why. There's also a video in a previous post.
I've been using Google Earth to plan a few paddles. Long term schemes. Far off ideas. Dreaming, really. They're remote places, so Google Earth will probably be accurate. Won't it?
I just looked close to home. Over the last three years, the BBC has been building a whacking great glass box on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. It opens officially on 20th September.
Honestly, you can't miss it. But Google Earth does. Or rather Google Maps, which I believe draws its data from the same source.
That piece of wasteland below, seen from space, is where the above building now stands. So if you're planning a trip remember, what you see might not be what you get.
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5th Sept 2007 - sorry, I had to remove this video. I was weirded out by some comments and thought Liz might not be too happy.