Searching for the Finmen

'In the early 1700's an Inuk paddling a traditional Greenland kayak landed on a beach near Aberdeen, alone and exhausted, and died three days later.' 

So starts the cover notes of Searching for the Finman by Norman Rogers, a book I thoroughly recommend.

Many kayakers have heard aspects of this story, but Norman was motivated to find out everything he could.  Hence the subtitle, 'An unplanned journey in homage to the kayak and its Inuit masters'.

What he found is utterly fascinating; tales of a whole community of 'Finmen' living off a remote Scottish island.  But how did they get there?

The solo kayaker was probably carried from Greenland as a 'prize' by a whaling or expedition ship, keen to return with a (albeit unwilling) trophy.  But how could a whole community be explained?

Norman's research seems quite thorough.  

It explores the Greenland equipment, the hydro-dynamics of their craft and how long and how far a human body could be expected to paddle.  Could they have travelled from Greenland to Scotland in their own craft?

All this could be quite dull, academic stuff, but it's not.  Driving the narrative is Norman's own drama.  A marathon kayak paddler, he suffers a serious health problem.  While doctors investigate this, and put him right, Norman investigates the Finmen.  All comes good in the end and he completes the Devizes to Westminster race.

As for the Finmen part of the story - I will not give away Norman's conclusions.  For that I suggest you click the link below and buy a copy of the book.

Or you could listen out to the first new Podcast in ages at on 1st October when the updated site goes live.

Again, we won't reveal the punchline, but you might glean enough to make up your own mind about this fascinating mystery.


The Adventure Show - Video preview

The Adventure Show is a good one this month and you can watch it in all sorts of places!  At 19:00 Tuesday 25th it will be on the iPlayer, on Sky 990, Freesat 970 Virgin and BBC-2 Scotland.  There's a video preview below.

The main event is the Goatfell Hill Race on the Isle of Arran.  

There's also a fantastic piece with Himalayan climber Sandy Allen about overcoming the 'last great problem' on Nanga Parbat, the Mazeno Ridge.  I shot the Scottish interview material, and Cameron's chat with Sandy is compelling stuff.  What's more, Sandy's still and video pictures from the Himalaya are fantastic.

The programme also has a feature comparing light and ultra-light kit for which I introduced Deziree and Cameron to one of our favourite west-coast beaches.  Normally Liz and I kayak there but for this test we walked in.  

Look closely and you can see the midges crawling on the lens!  I came back from that shoot with my neck and wrists erupting in itchy red bumps.  All so you could enjoy it on TV...

Sea Kayaking St Kilda - On TV Tonight

In 1965 Hamish and Anne Gow of the Scottish Hostellers Canoe Club completed the first recorded paddle out to St Kilda, some 52 miles west of the Sound of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, in a Clyde Double sea kayak writes Duncan Winning.

The story of the original voyage features in Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown, Volume 2 with additional archive footage in Hamish's Kayaking Films.

This June of this year Dolina Swanson and Christine Stewart of Stornoway Canoe Club repeated the paddle in a specially built replica of Hamish and Anne’s boat.  The whole process of building the kayak, the preparation for the trip and the actual crossing was filmed by Mac TV.  

The resulting programme, which I understand is to include an interview with Hamish and some of his 1965 film is to be shown in an hour long programme on BBC Alba at 9pm tonight, Monday 17th September and repeated the following evening, Tuesday 18th at 10pm.

BBC Alba is a Gaelic language programme with English sub-titles, but a lot of this programme is recorded in English.  The channel enjoys a reputation for quality programmes and has quite a following among non-Gaelic speakers.

The programme web site is here.  It is viewable on Freeview Channel 8, in Scotland only.  However, it can also be found on Freesat Channel 110; Sky (UK only) Channel 168 and Astra 1N 10818V 22000 5/6.  By cable on Virgin Media at Channel 188 (Scotland only); on BBC i player catch up on demand and Smallworld Cable Channel 170.  Also on Internet television at BBC iPlayer (UK only) and Zattoo (UK only).

NEW VW T5 Campervan for Sea Kayaking & Cycling - Long Term

The day I collected Nelly in Nov 2008
We bought our T5 Campervan in 2008 from Jerba Campervans, a family company based in North Berwick.  Because she's big and grey, not unlike an elephant, we christened her "Nelly".

My first story on her use as a sea kayaking vehicle has been among the most popular on my blog.

Last month I updated the original entry with some long-term thoughts, but this is more comprehensive, including tips and tricks we've learnt in the last few years.  It also takes in cycling as well as paddling.

Just as with backpacking, choosing a campervan involves a trade off between comfort during the day and comfort during the night.

Day time living
A lightly packed rucksack which is easy to carry is equivalent to a small van that's easy to drive.

A heavy rucksack, like a big campervan, may be cumbersome during the day but it can carry far more creature comforts to give you a cozy time once you reach camp.

We are definitely on the lightweight side of this equation.

We don't want a satellite TV, a shower or even a toilet.  (Since you ask, a wide mouth tub and a roll of biodegradable bin bags plus hand sanitiser - not elegant but effective).

We manage just fine with our T5, although we are pleased we bought the long wheelbase.

Night time - a  BIG comfy bed
It costs more on the CalMac ferries, but that extra 40cm makes a huge difference when you're on a French campsite, or even Scottish sea shore, for a few days.

Our sea kayaks are carried on a KariTek rack.

Although we've had a couple of problems, one of which necessitated a trip to their Ayreshire base to fix, we've been happy with the way it has worked and with the service from Geoff and Anne.

The roof bars stay on Nelly for most of the year and I remove the 'cradle' that slides along them when we're not paddling.  On longer journeys without kayaks the roof bars come off too.  It's all very simple to do.

By contrast, once the Fiamma Carry Bike  carrier was fitted, it stays fitted!  Having read that it was a devil to fit, I bought it from Jerba who agreed to fit it for no extra cost.

It's the two-bike version (expandable to 4) and carries its load well above the rear lights.

I prefer the Fiamma rack because it has two legs that sit above the rear bumper and take some of the weight, whereas VWs own rack puts all the weight on the top and sides of the rear door.

The rack makes the door heavier and, in cold low-pressure weather, the gas struts don't have enough strength to hold the rear door up and open.

With the bikes fitted, you can still open the rear door (to turn on the gas for example) but it's much heavier.  Also the bikes collide with any kayaks on the roof.

On longer journeys we carry our expensive Specialized carbon frame road bikes inside the van.  Partly that's for security, but mainly it's to improve fuel consumption.

When on the rear carrier, some of the bike is exposed to the air flow, creating drag.  It's probably not great for the bikes either.

The extra straps aren't on in this shot
With this in mind, and to keep them clean, we always cover them with a Fiamma Bike Cover  and add a big red-and-white Plastic Signal Board, a legal requirement in many countries.

The cover has two long bungee cords running through the hem, and while it's slightly tricky to fit, it can be done by one person.

It flaps around so much in the wind, our first version ripped itself apart, the bungees pulling out from the hem into which they were sewn.

The (free) replacement I reinforced with tape at stress points and when I cover the bikes I add additional straps to cinch it all down tight (not in the photo).  I also lock the bikes to the carrier.

To the casual observer, or opportunist thief, we look like any other campervan carrying a couple of bikes on which we can potter around the nearest town.

Initially we bought a free-standing awning (as you can read in Pt1). It's takes up a lot of space, but it's essential if more than two people intend to camp.  It's also useful for reserving your place on campsites without clearly defined pitches when you drive somewhere for the day.  We discovered we didn't use the awning so we cold it on eBay.

Extra guys divert rain during rain storms
After two trips to France and Italy, we learnt it's essential to be able to create shade outside the van.

We looked at roll-out awnings, but these all seemed rather flimsy and might have interfered with our pop-up roof.  

So Liz made our own awning with some heavy-duty waterproof fabric from Pennine Outdoor, and I bought some telescopic poles and guy lines.  

Our 'porch' fixes to the roof using the channel that was fitted to attach the old awning.

Not only does this provide shade when we're trying to escape from the sun, it also provides shelter when the heavens open.  It's very useful to be able to leave the side door open and not have the rain come bouncing in.

A table, large and high enough to eat from, and two chairs are also very useful for extended trips to warm places. 

We were in the French Pyrenees for roughly five weeks in 2012, using Nelly as a base from which to cycle some of the Classic Cols of the Tour de France.  

We only felt settled on a campsite once the awning was up and the table and chairs were out.

For Scottish use, Liz bought some midge netting (smaller weave than mosquito netting) and sewed some flexible magnetic strips into the hem.  

These allow us to have both side windows open and remain midge-proof.  

A large midge-proof curtain can be clipped to the side door so we can keep this open too in very hot weather.

The pop-up roof is absolutely essential when using the van for any longer than a couple of days.  Not only do you have the space to move around, you can configure the side and front panels to get air-flow through the van.  Jerba automatically replace the mosquito netting in the side panels with midge netting.

Nelly getting 4 new tyres
Initially we had serious problems carrying sea kayaks on this pop-up roof (it collapsed!) but Simon Poole at Jerba did a superb job of liaising with Remo, securing us a brand new reinforced roof.  

In all honesty, I would not buy a pop-up roof to carry sea kayaks without speaking first to Simon because, perhaps inadvertently, he has made himself the UK expert on this!

A full set of Michelin tyres lasted 24,000 miles which I thought was very good.  Their replacements cost £502 +VAT, which is not so good.

I could have bought cheaper, but there have been many times on wet mountain roads I gave thanks for buying good tyres.

So, a few final quick tips...

* A short, elastic clothes line, stretched between two points inside the front of the van, is great for drying clothes overnight when there's a risk of dew outside.

* A cigarette lighter-style power point fitted near the rear of the vehicle allows you to charge your phone overnight and still keep it close enough to use as an alarm clock.

* For single overnights, carry the right amount of water in a plastic container, not the van's belly tank because you'll probably fill it with more than you need, carrying extra weight and cutting your fuel consumption.


* The rear parking sensors failed after a year or so, and my local garage tells me this happens when water gets in.  When they dry out in the summer heat, they start working again.

* The drain point for the water tank sticks down under the van and I snapped it off driving on a rough farm track - Simon sent me a replacement.  

* Otherwise there have been very, very few long term issues.

Nelly is definitely part of our family.

New Podcasts at

New podcasts will start to appear on starting 1st October 2012.

At throughout each month there will be a few older podcasts, as I continue to migrate the archive to the new system.

And there will also be at least one new podcast each month.

When Apple dropped the system I had used to host the website I considered giving it all up.  I felt it had run its course.

However, I was persuaded to keep the site running as a resource to fellow paddlers.

I have been migrating some of the archive podcasts to a the new Libsyn publishing system.  With it has come more detailed statistics of downloads and listeners, and I admit to being both surprised and delighted by he numbers of people downloading and listening.

I've bought more space on Libsyn and stepped up this migration process.  Lots of archive podcasts (many of them good listens) will be published between now and Christmas.

With this renewed enthusiasm I have also recorded some new podcasts - interviews with interesting sea kayakers - and they'll start going live early in October.

There will be some new features too.  They'll be published on this blog, where you can hear a streaming version, and I'm working on an App for Android phones too.  

As ever, you'll find us in iTunes or at 

I'm Speaking at Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival

Alan Hinkes on Kanchenjunga
I'm delighted I accepted an invitation to speak at the EMFF this year because hopefully I'll get to see this bloke again.

Alan Hinkes is the only British mountaineer to have climbed all 14 of the world's 8000m peaks. We worked together quite a lot when I was in NE England but, I haven't seen him for ages.

He's speaking at 7pm on Sunday 28th October and 'early bird' tickets are now available at reduced prices, but only for a few more days.

I'm speaking at 2pm on the same day.  I wonder if I'll be able to hang around at the back?  Will anyone notice if I don't leave the room?

The festival runs from Friday night to Sunday night, and there are some great speakers - Leo Houlding, Borge Ousland and Zoe Hart are among those listed, but I think there will be a few more as well.  All have embarrassingly more successful pedigrees than me!

As befitting a Film Festival, there are also some interesting films too.  

I had intended to stop public speaking because I prefer making films.  Hamish's Kayaking Films was shown at Edinburgh last year.

I was persuaded to attend this festival precisely because it wasn't just a kayaking audience.  In fact, I suspect most of the audience will be sea paddlers and I've been told to pitch my talk at an "adventure" orientated crowd.  

I'm thinking of it as missionary work.

Hang on... "Crowd"? That's hopeful!

Superb Model Greenland Kayaks

These are more like individual pieces of art than model Greenland kayaks.

Each is hand-made, mounted on a piece of driftwood, signed and dated by its creator.  Some are bare frame, while others have a 'skin'.

Please forgive the snapshot.  

They should really be nicely lit and photographed against black, not snapped with a phone camera ontop of a Daily Telegraph that's being used to protect the kitchen table!

I spotted them when visiting Rowland Woollven to record a Podcast that will go live on in October (along with several new recordings).

So far Rowland has only made them as gifts for friends.  But increasingly he's being asked by kayakers if they can buy one.  Now, the answer is yes.

Each is very labour intensive, and Rowland does not want to spend all his waking hours making model kayaks.  So this will never be a big industrial-scale operation!  But if you're interested, please get in touch with him.  

I expect they'll cost around £90, but Rowland can give details - contact him through his website.