New Podcast - Sea Kayak London on the River Thames

Now you can hear from the man I was kayaking with, and who could also take you paddling into the heart of London, Harry Whelan.

This is the December podcast, and it's a few days early because I'm going to be working away for much of this week.

The next podcast, coming early January, will be with one of the co-founders of the famous surf kayakers, the Tsunami Rangers.

The Adventure Show - Kayaking this Sunday

The Adventure Show at 8pm on Sunday (28th Nov) features exciuting canoe and kayak slalom on the River Tay at Grandtully. There's also a catch-up with Andrew Murray, who is attempting a record breaking run from John o'Groats to Morocco. If you're not in Scotland you'll be able to see it on the iPlayer.

Update to GoPro HD Camera

It's very sad to write about this I know, but this firmware update for the GoPro HD camera (which I used on yesterday's video) adds some useful functionality which we video people will like.

This amazing wee camera will now shoot 1080p PAL at 25fps, which is very useful. There's also a one-button-switches-on-and-records function, which would have helped me recently. I spent too long trying to get the camera back to the video setting and switch it on, a consequence of which was I nearly hit a bridge.

There's even a way of pluging in a monitor but, given the size of the plugs, it still can't be used to line up a shot when the camera is in its waterproof housing.

Kayak Balance Exercise

A few mnths ago I wrote a piece about the 5 Star Training session I did with Gordon Brown of Skyak Adventures. (Incidentally, Mark Tozer has written a good piece about 5* assessment).

Quite a few of you enjoyed and linked to it. I know someone even practiced the balance session I described as part of Day Three.

Since I was mucking about with my cameras, testing the GoPro compared to the Oregon Scientific ATC 9K, I thought I'd have a go at the routine. As you can see, I still need a lot of practice!

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Stac Pollaidgh

A wee hill but a cracker, and the new path is helping heal the erosion scars. At 2008 ft, Stac Pollaidgh is absolutely not a Munro. What it lacks in height it makes up for in character - a challenging, scrambly, rugged ridge. Verglased rocks made the move to the summit scary as anything I've ever done.

Munro Bagging and the Seven Year Gap

When I started sea kayaking I was warned my Munro bagging would suffer. Boy did it ever! In the last seven years I have ticked off no new summits from this excellent book (the ideal Chrismas present incidentally). I've been up quite a few mountains over 3000ft, but none I hadn't previously climbed before.

"I feel I'm being unfaithful to the kayaks" confessed Liz as we packed the van last weekend and headed north. "Decent weather, a few days off, and no paddling... it doesn't seem right".

We are determined to rekindle our interest in hill-walking and mountaineering. It was this which brought us together in the first place, as we met on an expedition in Alaska. So we had one long-ish winter day and one short day on a lower mountain. The short day produced the better photos - they're coming tomorrow.

This was Conival and Ben More Assynt on a cold, crisp Monday morning, exactly a week ago. A far better place to start the week than sat behind a desk. Which I'm glad to say, I'm not.

Emergency Text Procedure for Kayakers and Hill Walkers

If you're in the UK and you venture into wild places, please read this.

You can now contact the emergency services by Text (SMS) message, but only if you register your mobile phone first.

It's for use in those occasions where a voice call won't go through, possibly because the signal comes and goes, but you might get a text message out. However, you will only know your text has got through when you receive a reply from the emergency services.

The system was originally set up for deaf and hard of hearing people.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland is urging all hill-goers to register now, not when they're stuck up a mountain. Kayakers might want to do the same. But remember it's to be used when...

* Life is at risk
* Crime/trouble is happening now
* Someone is injured or threatened
* Person committing crime is near
* There is a fire or people trapped
* You need an ambulance urgently
* Someone is in trouble, or missing, at sea
* Someone is in trouble on the cliffs or on the shoreline

Registration is very quick and easy.
SMS the word 'register' to 999.
Read the reply and if you're happy, SMS reply with the word 'yes'.

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Revised Review with Video - ATC9K Waterproof Video Mini Camera

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I have revised my opinion of this mini camera, so I have rewitten and re-posted this blog entry (several times). There's also comparison video so you can see results.

Initially I was disappointed with this mini camera. Shooting hand-held in my garden, the images were not as good as the GoPro Hero, something I attributed to the lens on the Oregon Scientific ATC 9K.

[Edit - a very useful contribution from Scott in the comments below points to the difference in sensor size between the two cameras. Having a larger sensor means the GoPro produces a higher quality image].

I still believe this s the case. However, on the water the other advantages start to take over.

Unlike the ATC9K, GoPro has no monitor (yet?), so you can't line up a shot. But in perfect, sunny conditions, the GoPro output looks sperb - see the opening sequence in the Tay Descent video.

[Edit - the GoPro does now have a monitor. But I'm now so familiar with the shot it gives, I've yet to use the monitor on a shoot.]

I tested both cameras on the same mount on Loch Sunart and you can see the result in the video below - GoPro on the left.

Firstly, GoPro has a much wider angle. They're both (initially) mounted in the same place. Only when I move the GoPro much closer to me do the shots start to look similar.

Secondly, exposure. I've tried the Spot Metering on the GoPro and found it unreliable. My best results have always come with centre Weighted Average metering, but perhaps I need to experiment more.

When the light is on my face, the GoPro results look great. When I'm in shadow, it exposes for the bright sky and I go dark. And there's a lot of bright sky in that big, wide-angle image.

So the ATC 9K is not heading for the store cupboard just yet. Having a monitor and a slightly narrower angle will, in certain situations, be more valuable than sheer image quality. (More below video).

[Edit - the first time I used it for a real shoot the plastic tripod mount snapped! Not good]

The Contour HD looks pretty good, and Justine used it on This Is Canoeing, but I don't think it's as versitile as the GoPro and, yet again, there's no monitor. The new Drift HD170 is only rated as 'water resistant'.

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Canoe & Kayak Slalom Event on BBC-2

Here's a very short promo for the Grandtully Premier Event I edited for The Adventure Show. It's rather exciting when you get into it! Available on the iPlayer, Freesat or Sky if you live outside Scotland. Feel free to embed and spread the word it's on.

Sea Kayaking on The River Thames

It's one of Harry's regular jokes. "What time is
it", he'll ask a someone. Keen to help the leader, they'll invariably look at their watch.


Big Ben rings out, emphasising the redundancy of their action.

"Forget it", Harry will say, "I already know."

If you're visiting London and fancy seeing the city from a fascinating perspective, this is the way to do it. [Check out the Podcast on this page].

It's not a commercial touring operation, it's a council-run project. More about that in a moment. But if you're serious about paddling, rather than simply wanting another tourist experience, then I heartily recommend getting in touch.

What's more, a Podcast with Harry Whelan will go live early in December 2010 at

When I was first invited to go kayaking on the Thames, I thought it would be in a play boat somewhere like Hurley Weir.

It's near Liz's Mum's house and we've watched paddlers there several times.

Instead, we launched amongst the houseboats and chunky four-wheel drive cars of Chelsea.

It just didn't seem right.

For someone used to paddling in the wilds of Scotland's west coast, launching to the sounds of sirens and overhead jets was, well... weird.

And it got weirder, as we headed down river towards the very heart of London.

I'd joined the 'adult kayak fitness' session, run on a Saturday afternoon (times vary).

There's also a new Chelsea Kayak Club based at the centre, and a few of the members were part of this session.

It was all very welcoming and friendly.

We went down with the flow and tide, turned just after the Palace of Westminter (also known as the Houses of Parliament), and pushed back against the tide.

At neaps this wasn't much of a struggle, but at springs you'd understand why this session is called 'kayak fitness'.

And even at neaps, you have to be careful where you turn.

This is a busy river, with lots of moored craft. Try to cut between two, and you could easily be pushed against or underneath the downstream craft.

Harry is well known on the river.

He regularly wash-hangs his way back up against the tide.

As you'll hear in the podcast, he has developed a good relationship with the Police and the Port of London Authority team, even managing to get some into sea kayaks to view the river from our perspective.

Likewsie, to show kayakers how small and difficult to spot we are, he helped to organise a session on the bridge of a high-speed ferry. Discovery learning at its finest.

Liz and I first paddled with Harry at Christmas 2007.

There was so much fog on the Thames, one bank couldn't be seen from the other.

It was a spooky experience to be the only traffic on the river.

Since then, the council-run centre has invested in new equipment, including plastic Nordkapp kayaks and Werner paddles.

As you'll see from their web page, Cremorne Riverside is operated by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

It is primarily aimed at the young people who live in the area. With the World's End flats overlooking the centre, these clients are certainly not all the sons and daughters of rich folk.

So as centre manager, Harry is primarily a youth worker.

He is also one damn fine kayaker.

He was part of the three strong team, with Barry Shaw and Phil Clegg, who circumnavigated Britain in 2005.

He has also been around Ireland, crossed the Irish sea, has posted video on the BBC London website and, as I write, is just back from teaching big-tide paddling in the USA.

So if you fancy sea kayaking on the Thames, you'll be in good hands.

And you probably won't need your watch.

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Holidays Sold on 'Scottish Sea Kayak Trail'

I wondered when this would happen. Wilderness Scotland is the first tour operator to start using the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail as the focus of one of their holidays. It might also help sell a few books!

From the Wilderness Scotland website:

This new trip for 2011 is designed to allow you to experience some of the best parts of the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail over a number of day trips. Rather than camping, accommodation is provided a couple of sea kayaker friendly west coast inns, meaning that you always have somewhere warm and dry to return to after a day on the water.

This trip explores the central part of the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, introducing you to wonderful areas such as Loch Linnhe, the Sound of Mull, Loch Sunart and the Sound of Arisaig. Each day, we move a little further north, enjoying some of the best sea kayaking to be found along the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail.

The Trail itself is completely unmarked and undeveloped so the sea kayaking offered is a pristine experience. Under the watchful eye of our experienced guides, you can develop your sea kayaking skills while discovering the amazing seascapes and wildlife of Scotland’s west coast.

At the end of each day, you can enjoy a hot shower and a visit to the local restaurant or pub for dinner before snuggling down with your duvet in our cosy accommodation. If (like some of us) you enjoy your kayaking and your home comforts in equal measure, then look no further than this itinerary!

Ben Nevis Race on Video

The first TV programme I edited went out on BBC-2 Scotland two nights ago. It's The Adventure Show, and this episode featured the race up and down Ben Nevis. I didn't edit the features, but I did the bulyk of the programme, and also shot the hill running feature on Finlay Wild.

The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer for a few days. If you want the one-minute version, watch below.

New Podcast - Sea Kayaking Israel

The place names in this podcast are straight out of history.

We recorded it in my van just outside Oban when Omer Singer led a Terra Sanata sea kayak trip around Mull.

Omer was delighted to be here while Liz and I listened to tales of Israel and thought, "we'd like to be there!"

I know some people find political issues with holidaying in Israel. I don't touch on that at all in the new podcast, and I don't think it's appropriate on this type of blog to go down that route.

Instead, listen to a podcast about, what sounds like, a great sea kayaking destination. Find it at Sea Kayak

Oh, and if you're thinking, "I recognise Omer but don't know from where...", he's in the video I made for Terra Sanata in the Seychelles.