"An economist", I was once told, "is someone who can explain, to five decimal places, why what he predicted would happen, didn't".

Weather forecasters seem much the same.

The 'theory' paper in the five star assessment scares many candidates, we were told during our training with Skyak.

Gordon took us through a previous paper verbally, waiting for us to volunteer answers, directing our responses.

This learning environment was clearly a lot less pressured than an assessment, yet each of us still felt the heat.

I decided I wanted to learn more about charts, navigation and weather. I thought I'd list some of the best books I'm using.

This is the first. RYA Weather Handbook - Northern Hemisphere. I have long been interested in weather and this has taken me to greater practical understanding as it affects the sea, so it's highly recommended.

If you're interested in buying a copy, I'd appreciate it if you could buy it using this link and I'll get a few pence to help keep this site running. Thanks.

New Finish to West Highland Way

He sits at the end of the long distance footpath, nursing a weary bronze foot. A silent salute to all those hikers who have walked the 95 mile long West Highland Way.

It is certainly not Scotland's greatest walk - far from it.

I sometimes think the WHW is actually a cunning ruse to keep visiting hikers out of Scotland's best wild country, and on a linear route where visitors can be parted from their money.

But of course, that's too cynical a thought.

Not so long ago there wasn't much of an official 'end' to the walk. A sign in a shop car park was all we could find when we walked the way over the 2000 Christmas holiday. So it's good to see a more welcoming end for the many walkers who tackle the way each year.

There has been a lot of local press about this, but this was the first time I'd seen it for myself.

I particularly liked the route map etched onto the paving slabs. Like the way itself, the map is dominated by Loch Lomond.

The new official WHW finish has been placed at the south end of Fort William. This is the opposite end of the town to where the walk arrives. It is also the opposite end of town to the bus station and railway station.

So weary hikers, seeking completeness, now feel compelled to walk the length of the high street, past all its shops, bars and restaurants. Twice.

If you were cynical, you might even be tempted to describe this new section as 'a linear route where visitors can be parted from their money'. Now where have I heard that before?


One of the (many) good things about doing five star training is coming back with lots to practice.

In particular, some towing, rescue and self-rescue techniques to share with Liz. So on a lovely, warm day we climbed into drysuits and launched into cold Loch Sunart. We'll try the rough water versions on another day.

This is what we did:

* Contact tows. First using her existing short length of cord with two clips. Then with a small loop of bungee, larks-footed on her deckline into which she pushed my toggle.

* Regular tow. First using an improved set-up of her tow rope. Then incorporating a quick release, more typically applied in a rafted tow.

* Scenario. I jumped into the water and pushed my kayak away. Liz tried towing me to the kayak, discovering how hard that is, even with me keeping as much of my body out of the water as possible. Then she ditched me, retrieved and emptied the kayak, and contact towed it to me.

* Rescues. We've always used the come-from-between technique, now frowned upon for obvious reasons in a big sea. So we practiced the leg-hook. Then we did all of the above with the roles switched.

* Balance. As we had with Gordon & Ken, to improve balance we started by taking both legs out of the cockpit, then hoisting ourselves onto the back deck, then reversing the procedure. After that, we'd get up on the back deck again and spin around; both legs on one side, then facing rear, then legs on other side, then back in. Finally we tried to stand up and sit down.

* Self rescues. Somewhere in the above sequence, almost everyone falls out of the kayak. Getting back in is a self-rescue. I struggle to hoist myself out of deep water, onto the back deck, so this is something to practice. Pulling oneself along the deck, head low, trying to prevent the PFD snagging on deck-clutter, is a challenge. Then sit up, and you're in the same position as you were in the first of the balance exercises. Except you're totally knackered.

* Paddle floats. Using one as an out-rigger, Liz was much more successful than me. A paddle-float assisted re-entry and roll rounded off the day.

You'll notice we used the Cetus. Much more stable than a Nordkapp for this kind of thing! Rough water versions still to do.

Corran Ferry Disruption - Times Dates

If you're visiting Ardnamurchan in coming weeks to go kayaking, you will need to know this. The small ferry, which takes just 14 cars, comes into service Saturday 25th September when the larger ferry goes for its annual refit.

There will be no ferry 06:30-13:00 on Thursday 30th September while a floating pier is put in place. This pier will be used while the repairs to the slip are carried out. Expect delays as it is tested in the subsequent days.

The floating pier will come into operation on Tuesday 5th October. From this date, the first ferry from Ardgour will be 07:30 and the last ferry from Nether Lochaber 19:00. However, it can operate during daylight hours only, so as the days shorten then I expect the operating times will too. There's also a 3 tonne weight restriction. More info from Highland Council.

Filming on Ben Nevis This Week

Together with Paul and Lindsay, I've been directing a short video on Ben Nevis for the last two days. Today we're all heading up there again.

Three times in three days - my thighs are burning.

It's the UKs highest mountain and we're shooting for Triple Echo Productions, who in turn are making the video for the John Muir Trust.

Yesterday, the weather forecast was so bad we only took the small camera up the hill. Still, we shot some lovely stuff with photographer Alex Gillespie, one of the contributors to the video, who took that shot of us at work.

We postponed part of the shoot, hoping for better weather today. Now I'm worried we won't get it. Today we're carrying the big camera up to shoot key sequences, on the climb and especially on the summit.

But I'll let you into a secret. I did not carry that big, heavy tripod up each time - I stashed it on the hill in a dry-bag.

If it's not there when we reach the half-way lochan this video is going to involve an awful lot of hand-held filming.

Corran Ferry - The Work Starts

This floating pier, a 'spud leg barge', is going to be in place at the Corran Narrows soon to allow the ferry to keep running. Newspaper story.

The slipway is crumbling and needs repair. The community reacted angrily to Highland Council's original plan to shut the ferry for several weeks this spring. Previous stories.

They've come up with this alternative plan.

The big ferry goes for its annual re-fit this weekend, replaced by the small ferry. It will use this floating pier butwill operate only during daylight hours. And it will take time to set up.

So we anticipate queues in coming weeks. But it's better than the alternative plan. Incidentally, I snapped that barge-thing in Kyle Rhea off Skye while I was doing my 5* training with Gordon Brown.

Mid Life Cycling Crisis Anyone?

There was a time when a bloke, having mid-life crisis, used to buy a motor bike or a sports car.

Not any more, according to The Guardian, quoting a survey by Mintel.

We mid-lifers are just as likely to buy an expensive new road cycle (tick) or attempt a physical challenge like a triathlon (er, tick) or marathon (tick-ish, got sick and never ran).

Just when I felt like a walking, running, pedalling cliche - they threw in the kicker.

There's no such thing as a mid-life crisis. It's just a handy excuse for 'human misbehaviour'. Brilliant. All part of my on-going plan to age (dis)gracefully.

Mt Desolation

A jaw-droppingly amazing intimate gig rounded off a superb weekend here in the Highlands.

A couple of rock-stars dropped in. Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quinn of Keane are on tour with their new band Mt Desolation.

It's a side project to Keane and very country. In the setting of the Watercolour Music studios, at the foot of the Ardgour mountains, it sounded absolutely marvellous.

Their new double-A single, which, like the album, you can pre-order here, will feature a song called The Departure.

It's really powerful, catchy and with clever lyrics. Take a listen below.

UK Film Premier Here... in Strontian

Amazingly, the UK premier of Elvis & Anabelle, a hugely successful, cult Hollwood movie is happening tomorrow night in our village! If you're in the area, Saturday evening, please come along to the Three Lochs Festival.

(Hugely successful and a cult - how does that happen eh?)

Doors open at 7pm and, just to put the cherry on top, the director Will Geiger will introduce the movie live from his home just outside Los Angeles.

After the screening, Will will be back online and will take questions from the audience over a live video link-up.

Did I mention it was the UK premier? You'd never know from our publicity!

We only discovered this the other day while negotiating the screening licence from the distributors Goldcrest.

Of course it's too late to alter the programmes. but should be a great evening. Trailer below.

New Podcast - Association of Paddlers / Coaches

The Association of Paddlers / Coaches is a new organisation for active leven five coaches.

Olly Sanders is the man behind the new organisation, and in this interview he explains why he started it and how, he hopes, all paddlers might benefit.

We get a little confused about the url when we're chatting so it's

There's also a podcast with Olly, about an expedition to Norway, in the Expedition section of the website.

Met Office Open Day - Exeter

Specialist open day for people involved in activities on the water. Guided tour of Exeter HQ and visit or National Met Library. Talks and tour lst 2hrs 20 mins. Chance to feedback to Met Office too. Tickets first-come first served by online application. Wish it was closer...

Online Video Coaching - Canoe & Kayak Magazine

Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme, owners of Body, Boat Blade on Washington's Orca Island, have shot some instructional video with Bryan Smith. The video works with articles in Canoe & Kayak Magazine and can be found on their website along with a discussion forum. For now it's a three-part video, but looks like an excellent way of combining media.

Five Star Training with Skyak Adventures

There is no time for larking about on five star training, as you can see.

Gordon Brown and Ken Nicol drove us so hard, these two chaps almost wasted away. Poor dears.

Every five-star training with Skyak Adventures is different, tailored to the conditions. Mark Tozer has a good description of a Five Star assessemnt here.

But this is what we did.

Day One. Arrive 20:00 hrs. So that will just be a meet and greet? Oh no.

A five-page paper, taken from a five-star assessment, tackled verbally by our group of four.

No-where to hide. Everyone has to contribute.

Mentally tired, I fall into bed after midnight. And this is only the start.

Day Two. Calm and sunny, lovely paddling weather. So we are indoors.

You might like vectors but they melt my brain. An excellent little paper, devised by George Reid, teaches and tests us in equal measure.

Finally, I think I'm getting the idea.

On the water by early afternoon. So a short day perhaps? Oh no.

Practical navigation. How many strokes to cover 100m? How much time does it take? OK, find that wee skerry on the map.

Lunch. Now find the skerry again. Er, it's vanished under the tide and the landscape is utterly different. What's more, the skerry on the chart is completely different to the skerry on the map.

So let's do some towing.

Contact tows around the Skye Bridge pillars. Improved contact tows (one version with just a short loop of bungee cord - superb!)

Longer tows. Then longer rafted tows with a quick-release system for one, then all three of the paddlers.

Now after 8pm, it's getting dark. So find the skerry again. Is it above or below water now? Because it's way too dark to see it.

How to control a group in such darkness? What if it was fog? Ten pm we're back in the van heading to the curry house. 1am I fall into bed, with the words ringing in my ears, "tomorrow will be a tougher day".

Day Three. It is. Kyle Rhea on a 5.5m tide, zipping at 8kn with an opposing wind. Breaking in and breaking out. Fail to break out and you're on your way to Mallaig. (Bye Simon!)

Absolutely no photos - hands in death grip.

Breaking in to rescue a casualty - slightly different. Clipping the casualty and towing out of the flow into an eddy.

Leadership - position in group, up or downstream?

Out into the bigger stuff, jacked up by wind over tide, for rescues. Leg-hooks. Then getting a casualty with a dislocated shoulder back in their boat. Then an unconscious casualty. All in rough stuff with a buddy.

Much needed lunch.

Then balance. Sit on back deck, spin around, both legs one side, then face backwards, then legs over the other side then back to where you started.

Then stand up. Then sit down - in the boat not the water. Why? Helpful for rocky landing.

Since you've spun yourself around the boat, spin the boat under you!

Sit on the hull. Then spin yourself around again. Then spin the boat back the right way up.

Only Gordon succeeds. That photo shows him half-way through. After starting in the cockpit as normal, he's on the hull facing the stern.

Off the water utterly, utterly knackered. So what now?

Back to the school for the second session on vectors.

Two hours plotting a voyage through the Pentland Firth, very close to a ship-eating tidal race. Early finish at 6pm.

That's because tomorrow is the rough-water day.

Oh my.

Day Four. Body boat blade? Well...

As you can see, Gordon has an unusual way of demonstrating the use of a body as a boat.

Armadale. Off the skerries where we filmed the rough stuff for the DVD. Controlling the boat in such conditions. Working with a buddy. Reaching a casualty. Towing in rougher water - into, across and down the waves.

Leadership - position with a group. Then difficult, rocky landings. Find a place you think you might be able get out. OK, do it.

Out into bigger rollers for self rescue. Roll. Re-enter and roll. Then much, much more.

Now my water-logged brain fails to retain anything that happens, except I'm riding the rollers with a huge smile on my face.

In the van, heads drop, eyes close. It's 2pm and we're pooped. Food perks us up. Individual, private debrief, 2 on 1. Action plans.

A marvellous four days. Knackering, but bloody marvellous. And some great ideas for DVD-2.

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Three Lochs Festival

Starting next Thursday is the first Three Lochs Book and Arts Festival, here in Strontian.

It promises to be an absolutely wonderful weekend.

Anyone who thinks we're starved of culture out here in the sticks might be pleasantly surprised.

It's a three day festival, although looking at the programme (download) things really get going on the Friday night and Saturday.

The big name in the line-up is internationally acclaimed writer Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

I'm in there too on the Saturday morning, talking about shooting kayakers. However, my main contribution has been to secure the services of someone else.

Twenty-five years ago, I made friends with an American bloke I met in a pub in Langdale, in the English Lake District. Will and I became good friends, even before e-mail.

He stayed with me a few times and I spent two weeks driving around California with him and two crazy Italian girls, one of whom he married.

Back then Will wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. He knows now. Will Geiger is a movie director in Hollywood. And a writer. How cool is that?

After film-school, his first feature length movie, written and directed, left the industry speechless in awe. I watched Ocean Tribe sat on his couch, in his house near LA, after I completed hiking the John Muir Trail.

The movie left me more exhausted than the 220 miles. It took me through the whole range of emotions, from flood so ftears to whooping with joy. (I had been in the US for 3 weeks so whooping seemed normal).

His second movie is, in some ways, even better. That's what we'll be showing at the Three Lochs Festival.

Elivs and Anabelle (trailers below) is a huge cult movie. Search for it on YouTube and you'll find kids around the world have made their own trailers with their own music.

It touched a chord. And it got Will noticed by the big studios. He co-wrote and directed Free Willy - Escape from Pirate's Cove (err, not my cup of Orca) and has written the new version of Black Beauty for Warner's. He draws a distinction between these films and those which are his 'babies'.

The screening of Elvis and Anabelle is a week tomorrow, Saturday 18th. Then the audience be able to question Will live via a Skype link-up projected on a big screen. I'll do my best to hold the whole thing together, which will be easy if the technology works.

So, the Highlands meets Hollywood. Should be fun.

New Podcast - Tay Descent 2010

An exciting new event for sea kayakers and river kayakers is the Tay Descent.

The Scottish Canoe Association's show in Perth is a must for all paddlers north of the border.

They've now added a river descent to the weekend's activities. And it can be done in a sea kayak.

Download the podcast at to learn more from Stuart Smith and Steve Macdonald.

This is an extra podcast in addition to the usual two-a-month. There will be another one live on 16th September.

Find out more about the Tay Descent on the SCA home page. If you're thinking of coming, book early as many of the slots are filling up.

The Great Strontian Pig Chase

I cleaned the car yesterday. The first time in months. Look at who ended up inside.

This was the culmination of a chase of two piglets. Delivered to our crofter friends last night, they escaped before they could be penned.

The daring two spent the night in the open. Food was placed to lure tham to their new home. Undoubtably frightened by travelling and the newness of their surroundings, the bait didn't work.

Late afternoon, our phone rang. "We're having a pig emergency. We need as many people as possible". Passer-bys were drafted in to help.

For several hours, Sukie, Bill, Toby and Harry with the help of Cheryl, had been chasing the escapees along the single-track road that leads up our valley. When cornered, the piglets dived off the road into the thick brambles. More bodies were needed.

I had to feel sorry for the poor youngsters who were clearly terrified. But perhaps enjoying the game just a little.

We drove them from their thick cover like grouse beaters on a moor.

We cornered them, one at a time, against a gate. We formed a wall. Then, like the last remaining competitor in a game of British Bulldogs, the piglet would charge our line.

At the first attempt the piglet broke free.

I was in the full-back position, confident of my old rugby skills, but the wee devil powered through my tackle.

It tooks ages to get them back against the gate but we weren't making the same mistake again. One by one, the piglets we recaptured. We'll see them through the winter, make a fuss of them each time we visit, then sometime next year, they'll go on their one-way holiday to Mull.

Oban Sea Kayak Race Tomorrow

My very best wishes to everyone who is taking part in the Oban Sea Kayak Race tomorrow.

The forecast is for light south-easterly winds, so you should get a little push up the Sound of Kerrera, and sun with a little cloud. Plenty to drink and sunscreen will be essential.

If you're looking for some new kit, Sea Kayak Oban is offering 10% discount to every competitor. They also have ex-demo and second-hand sea kayaks for sale.

Sadly Liz and I won't be there, as our build reaches a crucial stage we have too much to do before I head off paddling all next week to start the process of making DVD-2.

Ride Loch Ness

Living amongst spectacular scenery can make you a little blind to the beauty of other places.

I was delighted to find this superb 50 mile bike ride, out along the eastern shore of Loch Ness to Foyers, and back through farmland and grouse moors.

I went wrong near the end. I missed the left turn near Tombreck and ended up riding 8 miles on the A9, one of Scotland's busiest dual carriageways.

The campervan was in for its first service so this was a good way to spend a few hours while the men with spanners worked out how to part me from my money.

Photos from the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail

Among the nice things about writing the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail guidebook is that people share their adventures with me.

I recently received an e-mail from Gaël with a link to his Picassa site. He kayaked solo from Gigha to Skye in this craft, and Gaël says he's impatient to return and complete the voyage.

(This is the second version of this post - previously I made the mistake of thinking Gaël was a girl's name! How embarassing.)

The Second Coolest Campsite in Scotland

It is run by this man, Trevor Potts, and it is just beyond the village of Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

He's also a kayaking legend, but more of that later.

I believe it was this book Cool Camping Scotlandwhich placed Trevor's campsite number two. (If not that one, then one of the Cool Camping series). Here's their website.

The Guardian newspaper picked up on this, swiftly followed by The Times, both of which included Trevor in their guides. He provided the photo, they brought him visitors. He had to increase the bandwidth on his website -

I called in on Trevor as I cycled past. He's had a great year, but not too many kayakers. Which is surprising as there are load around and he is mentioned in The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail.

Trevor recorded interviews at He was a member of the first western team to kayak the Bering Strait from Alaska to USSR. He also recreated Shackleton's famous escape from Elephant Island. They're worth a listen, and if you're looking for a nice campsite base for a few days paddling, you know where is cool.

Podcast - Patagonia, Falklands & Tierra del Fuego

This one is a great mix of adventurous tales from far off places and practical advice, should you ever feel like heading to those places yourself.

This Podcast is the second interview recorded with New York based kayaker Marcus Demuth.

In the first, Marcus told about how he went from novice to expedition paddler in just seven years and about his record breaking solo circumnavigation of Britain. He also revealed some of the tricks of travelling with a three-pece kayak.

Thanks for all the positive feedback on Marcus' first interview. I know you're going to live this one just as much.

Oh, and there will be an extra podcast, before the next scheduled update on the 16th of September. Subscribe and you won't miss a thing.