Why I'll Be Watching The Tour De France

Firstly, because it's a classic race and each stage will be covered live by ITV4 this year. Secondly, because of the Contador / Armstrong / Schleck / Wiggins battles. If you're not across the Amrstrong / Contador rivalry, there's a great article in Outside Online, well written and comprehensible even if you don't follow cycling. I'll be cheering for Wiggins' new Sky Team.

GearPods Failed Waterproof Test - 2 Reviews

Not my test, but one conducted by Derrick at KayakQuixotica.com. The waterproof system allowed water to enter. [edit: a second review also found a slight leak]. Nevertheless, Derrick says it's a good product, although he'd add some bits and pieces of his own. His full review is very informative, as is a UK review by Douglas Wilcox at SeaKayakPhoto.com.

Disposing of Flares - Accident Waiting to Happen?

Out of date flares are being dumped in harbours, in the sea and outside coastguard stations, according to one coastguard I've recently spoken to.

This is illegal and a serious safety hazard which is causing concern among some of the folk who have to deal with it.

Part of the reason is that there is now just one disposal point on the west coast of mainland Scotland, and it is among the most popular sailing destinations in the UK.

So, what changed?

In 2005 new carriage and storage regulations for explosives came into force, with two key effects.

1. Until 2005 Coastguards (MCA) had Crown Exemption from previous explosive acts, allowing it to store out of date flares. Now it doesn't.

2. The routine collection service, from MCA sites and other locations, by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams was withdrawn by the MoD. Interim arrangements were set up between the MoD and Coastguard stations, but these ran out last March.


There are now only eighteen licensed MCA sites in the UK with facilities to accept TEPs. They're shown on the map below and listed in this downloadable leaflet.

No criticism of the Coastguards whatsoever is intended. The folk in all the ops rooms, to whom I spoke, went out of their way to help. I've also spoken to some of the guys who actually receive the TEPs, and again, they try their best.

Everyone seems all too aware of the limitations of the new system, and are all trying to prevent accidents.

Each area is slightly different, so this is roughly how it works.

You telephone the listed MRCC for your area and they tell you on which specific days they will be able to accept your TEP. In some areas it is just one day a month.

They will also tell you to what location you should take the TEP - it's not necessarily the main MRCC.

As I said above, there are just four locations for the whole of mainland Scotland (there is also one in Stornoway and one in Shetland). And there is just one disposal location, yes ONE, for the entire mainland west coast.

You can't just turn up. You must make a reservation for a specific date, and in some cases, time, plus tell them exactly how many TEPs you are bringing. I was told this is because a private company supplies a box to hold the TEPs and, when it's full, they can't take any more until a new box is delivered.

It is perfectly legal to transport TEPs to the disposal site in a car. The regulations apply to places of work and places in public use, not individuals.

But....

Is every sailor going to go to all that fuss, make arrangements weeks in advance to spend hours in a car and an awful lot of petrol, to driving to a disposal site?

Or will they quietly dump them? Irresponsible and illegal. But much, much easier.

Imagine you live on an island, like one of the Orkney Islands, without a collection point. You're not allowed to transport out of date flares on ferries or aircraft. So how are you legally going to take them to a collection point? This is being discussed on an Orkney forum (you have to register to read it).

Shetland Coastguard told STV last August that people were recklessly dumping flares. "This is now becoming a regular occurence in Shetland", said John Webster, sector manager. "To us it is only a matter of time before somebody gets killed or seriously maimed..." And Shetland has a collection point, so imagine how bad it could be elsewhere.

However, dumped flares might not be the consequence of the system change. Fishermen and other commercial boat users are meant to use private companies to dispose of their flares, and that can be expensive.

Some marinas have begun accepting leisure boater's TEPs, although they charge a small fee and don't advertise the facility. Maybe they fear being swamped with the things?

I recently disposed of four TEPs at Largs Yacht Haven marina office at £1.50 each. I was not expected to buy replacements, although I did go next door to the chandlers and purchase two day/night flares.

Some councils may also have licensed sites for explosive disposal, but I can't find a list.

So what's to be done?

The MCA is not responsible for the disposal of out of date flares but, helped by the Department for Transport, has worked hard to put in place a system which won't charge users. The MCA received no extra government money for this.

The RYA was asked by members to make representation to government.

It takes the view "it is unrealistic... to expect to be able to buy flares at the cheapest price possible, often from mail order or the internet, and then expect someone else to be responsible for their disposal when they become out of date; they are the responsibility of the person that purchased them."

"If you are unable or unwilling to travel to the disposal sites provided, there are commercial companies that will dispose of your unwanted TEP, although the cost may be significantly more...." Download FAQ sheet.

Apparently, there have been attempts to build the price of disposal into the purchase price of flares. These have been resisted by distributors who know they'd be at a significant disadvantage to overseas imports and online purchasing.

For now, if you're going to buy a flare, I suggest you go to somewhere that guarantees to dispose of it when it expires in three or more years time. But would that guarantee hold, I wonder?

Disposal must be part of the purchase decision of flares.

So from now on, the only ones I'll buy are the day/night type, useful for giding in a helicopter or smaller lifeboat when close.

For raising the alarm I'll rely on my radio, phones and PLB for raising the alarm.

Rocket flares will be retired and not replaced as they expire.

Gandalf Goes to the World Cup

Quality Kayak and Kit Rental on Scotland's West Coast

Fancy tackling The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, or just exploring the glorious west coast of Scotland?

Not sure how you'll get here with your kayak and kit?

Sea Kayak Oban has more sea kayaks to rent and can offer a package with trolleys, tents, stoves etc.

Length of Britain and Three Peaks

Not so long ago I wrote about two blokes called Chris (one of them a kayaker) planning to ride from John o'Groats to Lands End, only pausing to climb the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales. Well, they completed their journey in an astonishing nine days! That's some achievement, and they raised a decent sum for Help for Heros. Trip highlights are below.

Oh and next year one of the Chris' plans a solo sea kayak circumnavigation of the Isle of Skye.

GearPods

I've noticed quite a few reviews of these bits of kit cropping up on blogs and YouTube. It's a modular emergency kit, to which you can add extra containers and specialist equipment, expanding it into regular ultra-light camping kit if you wish.

Not too many sea kayakers trying it yet though. Douglas wrote a long review with photos, and Derrick is currently testing the container to see if it's waterproof - part one of his video is bleow.

There are lots of other folk testing it on video in other situations too, and again, one is shown below. The company tells me it prefers to market using blogs and social media.



Problems Disposing of Flares?

Are you having problems getting rid of out of date flares? If so I'd like to hear from you.

I'm working up a story on this subject.


There are now only eighteen locations to dispose of TEPs (Time Expired Pyrotechnics) listed on the map alongside. Some are open just a few hours, one day each month, and the TEPs have to be booked in.

You'll notice there is one, yes one location, for the entire west coast of mainland Scotland. That's one of the largest, busiest sailing areas in the country.

The coastguards I've spoken to seem aware there is a problem. I have 4 TEPs to dispose of, and they were keen to do what they could to help me within the limitations of their system.

I've already heard some alarming information on this, off the record, from people in the know.

I will publish what I know when I can although it might appear first on a larger platform.

For now, if you have had trouble disposing of flares, I'd like to hear from you. sunartmediaATmeDOTcom

Thanks
S


Kayak TV Programme Webisode 3

So what do you think of this? Content? Production? I'd be very interested to know. I'm trying to decide whether SeaKayakPodcasts.com should remain 30 minute audio episodes or shorter video episodes.


Go behind the scenes at the 2nd annual Canadian Canoe Symposium and the National Sea Kayak Symposium to talk Greenland paddling with James Roberts from learntokayak.ca, Scott Ewart teaches how to paddle faster, and the man behind paddlinginstructor.com David H. Johnson shares about flares.

Mingulay

It's not at the end of the world. It just feels like it.

Mingulay is four islands south of Barra, the place most tourists regard as the southern end of the Outer Hebrides. With fairly tricky tides it's not easy to reach by kayak, but last week's predicted high pressure tempted us to try.

We had two wonderful days and nights on the island in the company of this fellow and almost a hundred of his kind.

The 'tick' to get is to circumnavigate Barra Head, also known as Berneray, the island at the very bottom, which is crowned by Barra Head lighthouse. In this we failed. Although the sea was calm along much of Scotland's west coast, out here there was still swell rolling in from the Atlantic. I'm told it is a rare day indeed when it's flat calm out here.

It's a head-game too. Far from help, probably out of radio range and with no-one to see a flare, this is not the place to have an epic. We felt it was not the place to take risks.

This photo is (almost) as close as we got to Barra Head light.

Liz did manage to land on Berneray, but it involved a short swim towing her kayak. Getting back in was easier.

The remoteness may have inhibitted our kayaking, but it added hugely to the atmosphere of Mingulay.

Having been awake around 5am to catch tides, we could spent most of two days hiking the hills, exploring the stacks on the west coast, and watching the seals hauled out on the beach.

These guys were noisy neighbours, 'singing' all night. It sounds more like dogs howling at the moon.

The remains of the settlement on Mingulay are still evident, with ruined hourse, school and stone field boundaries.

There are more photos and GPS tracks of our journey at the SeaKayakRoutes.com page.

Dense fog slightly complicated our return journey, but it had cleared when we reached Castlebay. So we decided to collect our kayak trolleys and keep paddling north to Lochboisdale.

Our thanks to Katie and Chris Denehy of Clearwater Paddling for looking after our kit while we were out, and for running a good hostel on Barra. (Chris also recorded the first Podcast back in 2006).

We had a sperb camp spot on Gighay, very different to the previous two nights on Mingulay.

That left a short day to finish. So we detoured to Eriskay and had a stroll through the houses to the bar Am Politician, before kayaking into Lochboisdale early afternoon.

The showers next to the Tourist Information centre were welcome, as was the free camping on the hotel's drying green (ask permission first).

The CalMac staff locked away our kayaks on the linkspan Ro-ro bridge so they would be ready for the morning sailing back to Oban.

It was a great trip lasting six days in total, with four of them spent on the water. And it was greatly helped by using our kayak trolleys on the CalMac ferries. Here's a GPS track of our route.

Heading Home

Friday morning and ready to load at Lochboisdale, onto the Oban ferry
after a superb trip visiting Barra, Mingulay, Barra Head, Pabbay,
Sandray, Vattersay, Eriskay and South Uist.

Back on Barra

After four years we're back on the lovely island near the southern end
of the Outer Hebrides. If the weather is with us, we hope to make it
further south to the last outpost of Barra Head on Berneray.

It was great to see Katie and Chris Denehy again, the nice folk who
run the hugely successful Clearwater Paddling and cozy hostel where we
are tonight. Chris gave me some excellent seal photos for my book and
was also my first Podcast interviewee.

It was a fairly spur-of-the-moment to come. Work I had planned for
this week isn't happening; it looks like a high pressure is building
over the west coast and could last all week; and it only costs £23
return to get here on CalMac.

But there's no phone signal, so no updates until we get back.

It's Boring To Blog About Builders

Which is why I've resisted doing it. Until today, when we moved our kitchen into our living room.

We live in a very small cottage. It's tiny. Our flat in Glasgow was larger.

Now the entire contents of the kitchen and one end of the loft, both of which were pretty full places, have been found new homes.

Our living room, as you can see, now boasts a fridge, freezer, microwave and dining table. Actually it's quite cosy.

Washing-up in the bath is less fun but a lot less trouble than those folk who have been living in a caravan since last year. There's a lot of that around here while people have houses built.

By comparison, our building work is modest.

A rickety old conservatory, which was freezing in winter and too hot in summer, has been torn down.

In its place, the end of the house is being extended, giving us a much larger kitchen with some nice large windows on the end.

It'll all be done soon. I hope.

Lendal Announce "We Are Back"

Lendal, now owned by Celtic Paddles Ltd, part of Nigel Dennis' Sea Kayaking UK, have issued a news release and an information sheet about their plans for the future.

You can read all about their range here. Production should start in August, begining with sea, then whitewater then open boat paddles.

"At the moment" they say in their News Sheet 1, "we are in the process of shipping back all plant and machinery". Retailers interested in stocking the paddles are asked to contact them now.

And what about that nifty integration of the Welsh dragon into the new logo? Thistle no more...

However, as one contributor to the UK Sea Kayak Guidebook Forum points out, it is somewhat unfortunate they cannot correctly spell the name of two of their popular paddles, Archipeligo (sic.) and Kenetic (sic.) Touring.

Although my history of spelling on this site is not exactly flawless...

Carrying Kayaks on the CalMac Ferry

We've only taken our kayaks, with no vehicle, on two CalMac ferries.

However, we learnt a great deal on that return journey to Coll. So I'll pass on what I know.

Firstly, the kayaks travel free of charge but cannot be booked. Neverthless, if you're booking a ticket for yourself, mention you're travelling with a kayak.

If you ask for advice you'll hear th same thing time and again, "give yourself plenty of time'.

If possible, arrive at the port the evening before you sail to check out where staff want you to (temporarily) leave your vehicle while you unload. If possible, buy your ferry ticket. Time will become precious just before you sail.

Decide where you'll park your vehicle while you are away. Very few CalMac terminals have car parking. Local police stations are very helpful sources of information. After dropping off the kayaks you'll have to park and walk back to the dock.

Have your kit already in the bags in which it will go into the kayaks. Personal kit and paddles can go in the cockpit. It sounds obvious, but it minimises quayside packing.

Of course, you may not be able to check everything out in advance. If so, you will just have to 'wing-it' on the day of sailing.

Don't worry, just ask advice from the port staff. As I mentioned before, most will tell you the same thing, "give yourself lots of time'.

So you've dropped off the kayaks, left most of your team packing them on the dockside while you parked the vehicle and walked back. Whoosh - an hour just flashed past!

You'll probably be asked to stand with passengers who're travelling by bike, not with the foot passengers. That's because you and bike travellers will be carrying your own bikes and kayaks onto the car deck, often before the vehicle traffic.

This means you can be loaded up to forty minutes before sailing time.

While a trolley is not essential, it makes life a whole lot easier.

Pack your kayak on the shore, leaving a personal kit and a small grab-bag in the cockpit to take on board.

Some of the larger ferries have showers which can be very useful if you've been out for a few days.

When wheeling your kayak across the car-deck, be careful not to catch the wheels in the recessed securing points.

If you don't have a trolley, evolve huge muscles. And make the kayak as light as possible by packing heavy items in a roll-up rucksack (like the GoLite Jam) and carry them onto the car deck on your back. Dump the pack in the cockpit when the kayak is in position.

Obviously, follow the instructions of the on-board staff.

But remember, they're not kayakers, so won't know how to lift your boat and might not put it in the best place.

As the next two photos show, on the way out we were placed hard against the wall and, we thought, safely out of the way.

However, the van and tractor which parked alongside were not being unloaded on Coll. So we could not easily get out.

Fortunately, the keys were in the van, and it was driven forward. Nevertheless, I winced as my fully laden boat had to be lifted over the wheels of a tractor.

I feared his back was going to snap, poor thing.

Next time I would politely check that all the traffic coming alongside would be unloaded in the same port as us.

As I said, we have only done this once.

I cannot understand why we waited so long! We will certainly do it again in the near future.


It's a great way to get around Scotland's islands.

Sea Kayaking on Tripbase

Eleven websites have made it onto the Tripbase review page for Sea Kayaking. I'm delighted that Wenley's excellent On Kayaks blog is top of the pile, with Douglas Wilcox's SeaKayakPhoto.com.

I check every update on both, along with KayakQuixotica. The unparalleled UK Sea Kayak Guidebook is also there too. So I'm also rather pleased to find my humble offering in such illustrious company. Look, I even get a gold star. I haven't had one of those since I was seven.

Tripbase Travel Reviews

Fancy A Ride? Or A Climb? With a Kayaker

These two blokes are both called Chris. Chris Seals and Chris Bawden.

The first Chris is a daft keen sea kayaker, and together they've taken on quite a challenge. It starts tomorrow 10th June and will finish ten days later.

The pair plan to ride from John 'o' Groats to Lands End, climbing the three highest peaks in Britain along the way.

This is their website, where you can also give a dontation as they're raising money for Help For Heroes.

Chris and Chris are looking for people to cycle sections of the route with them or tackle one of the climbs. Will you? You don't have to be called Chris.

Contact Chris and Chris via their Twitter feed or drop them an e-mail.

Coll & Tiree Circumnavigation

Why did we wait so long to go to Coll and Tiree? Look at that photo, taken among the islands at the northern tip. Stunning.


Perhaps because Coll is not too far off-shore, I've been building up to kayaking there? But long crossings are boring.

The interface between land and sea is much more interesting.

So we wheeled our kayaks on the CalMac MV Clansman, and wheeled them off again on Coll a few hours later. Based on that experience, I'll write a separate entry about taking kayaks on the CalMac.

However, a trolley for your kayak makes things a great deal easier. Especially landing on Coll.

Around the ferry terminal the coast is very rocky, and launching a fully laden kayak would be a back-injuring challenge.

The nearest beach is a 1km walk along a smooth tarmac road, and that's where the trolley comes into its own.

Rigged as in the photo, and pushing rather than pulling, we covered the ground as fast as most walkers.

It would probably be safe to leave a trolley next to several small sailing boats stacked near the beach. However, we took ours with us as we might have returned from Tiree.

The axles of these Eckla Trolleys were together in two Lomo tapered yellow drybags (they didn't really fit) on my back deck. I had the (large) wheels infront of my foot pegs, turned upright, flat against the bulkhead, and strapped together so, incase of wet exit, I'd only have one item to retrieve. Liz's wheels went on her back deck.

If you don't have a trolley, there is an exciting alternative launch on Coll.

Ask the staff at the CalMac office if they would be so kind as to lower the ro-ro ramp all the way to the water and treat it as a slipway.

However, if you're going all the way around Coll, you face the same problem getting back to the ferry terminal, and lowering the ramp might not then be possible.

Our circumnavigation of Coll and Tiree was a voyage of 110km. Including the ferry travel from Oban it took four days - we left on Thursday morning and were back Sunday evening. We wild camped each night, although finding camping places on Tiree is definitely harder as there are more houses.

The first photo showed the lovely islands around the Cairns of Coll area at the north of the island.

This photo shows the equally stunning southern end of Tiree.

I found the east coast more interesting that the west. The long beaches of the west are, to a sea kayaker, mini-open crossings as you paddle from one headland to the next. Whereas the east coast is crinklier with more points of interest.

Yesterday, I posted video of basking sharks playing with us in Gunna Sound. I've picked my other highlights on this page in SeaKayakRoutes.com

Video - Basking Sharks Yesterday Morning Off Tiree

They came to check us out as we kayaked from Tiree to Coll. The smaller, young ones were nearer the shore, grouped together as if in a nursery. The larger ones were feeding further out into the tide flowing between the islands.

They seemed to check us out by cutting across our bows and bumping us with their dorsal fins. It was very gentle, although enough to move the bow sideways, before the fin sank below the surface.

The experience was so mesmerising I almost forgot to take out my camera - the first time that has happened! We eventually stopped counting at 12 although we think there were more.

Wanna Know Where To Find a Superb, Secret Beach???

Fabulous sand, excellent view, great camping and no-one around for miles. I'll tell you exactly how to find this place below.

But should any of us do this sort of thing?

I've written about how things have changed regarding Bothy locations. At one time the MBA did not reveal their locations, now they have a clickable online map with grid references.

So why not beaches and camping spots for sea kayakers? Well it's obvious, isn't it?

Despite our claims to be independent spirits, many of us still seem to have a little bit of inner sheep. 'That place looks good', we think. 'Must go there'.

That's why my guidebook to the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail will give you all the information to successfully paddle from Gigha to the Summer Isles, but will not tell you where to camp or even land for lunch. In a couple of places (like the Sandaig Islands) it actively encourages you to look elsewhere. This leaves people to find their own adventure and doesn't create so-called 'honey-pot' areas.

And That's why I made a mistake when I tested the iPhone application Track My Tour.

There's nothing wrong with the application. It's a superb system.

But if it is used, as I did, to track a local sea kayak tour, it reveals the precise location of superb beaches, right down to the co-ordinates. I've now deleted the track.

This application has all sorts of uses for all sorts of tours. But please, not for logging general sea kayak outings on precious coasts.

Oh, and have you just scrolled down so I can tell you how to find that lovely beach I mentioned at the start? Well, it's easy. Start at Gigha and paddle north. You'll find it. In a few weeks.

++ New Podcast - 'Paddle To Seattle' and the next Adventure

An absolute cracker to relaunch the Podcasts.

Josh Thomas and JJ Kelley, the guys behind the multi-award winning sea kayak adventure film, Paddle To Seattle tell us all about that challenging kayak expedition and how they managed to make such a good film about it.

They also reveal plans for their next filmed adventure - and this time it's in India.

Want to hear more? Find out how we hooked up Ardnamurchan, Washington DC and Seward Alaska to make this Podcast... just for you.

Go to SeaKayakPodcasts.com and either listen to the streaming Podcast or download the MP3 file. You can also watch the trailer for their film.

Better still, subscribe free on iTunes and you won't miss a single Podcast. Here's a preview of the iTunes page.