Paddles with an Anas acuta...... unashamedly biased toward the sea kayak of that name (actually the voyages of two boats, one 'traffic over gold', one 'quill')

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Post Xmas paddle

Nice wintery light as we set off,

and some nice waves to play in.

More details here.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Where can you...

Where can you paddle into the rib cage of a wooden ship,

come alongside a lightship,

paddle under...

.. a submarine,

and past the pride of the Royal Navy?

Portsmouth Harbour on a Winter's day.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A calm evening amid the gales

Even in the South, the wind had been gusting 40kt during the day on Wednesday, with storm force 10 winds forecast for Thursday. We decided on the shelter of the Hamble for our usual evening paddle. Despite the smoke from the Fawley stacks blowing horizontal down at the entrance of Southampton Water, it was almost calm up here.

The water carpeted in leaves torn from the trees,

and inky black. Roosting egrets just visible as white smudges on their favourite overhanging branches.

On reaching Curbridge, it was disappointing to find that the waterside pub the Horse and Jockey was closed.

The strong winds in Scotland remind me of a camping trip in 1979. I was on my own, camped near the ruined sheiling below Coire Gaothach on the NE side of Ben Lui, and had spent a couple of days on the icy ridges and gulleys of this fine N face, unexpectedly cold and snowy for late November. Coming out onto the summit, I was suddenly struck by strong winds, and decided that the steep slopes were no longer tenable. My plan was to descend via the SE ridge to the col between Ben Lui and Ben Oss, drop into Coire Laoigh and descend the burn to my tent. The wind was knocking me off my feet on the ridge. However, as I reached the flat col between Ben Lui and Ben Oss the wind changed character from being powerful, but somehow enjoyable, to downright dangerous. I was fighting for my life in a swirling tide race of wind pouring from the SW between the mountains. It was difficult to breathe because of the low pressure across my face, lying flat out, my ice axe pushed right into the snow under me in the gusts, barely able to make a controlled belly slide in the lulls. The wind had picked up bits of ice, snow, peat, anything it could tear out of the ground, so I was being paint-ball machine gunned, with no way of fighting back. Flattening myself lower and lower on the snow, making progress a metre at a time. The wind eased a bit as I slid into the relative shelter of Coire Laoigh and my tent was still there. Just as well since that 5km, all downhill and mostly downwind on easy ground, had taken me 5 hours and night was falling.

Next day, with deep drifts of fresh snow, and feeling battered; I decided to stay put and dozed away the day in the tent. In the afternoon, a helicopter overhead sent me scrambling out of the tent to make signs that I was fine. The winchman came down anyway, not at all interested in me as it turned out, they were looking for an RAF Jaguar that had crashed the previous day; but I had neither seen nor heard anything. However, he warned me that more bad weather was on the way and that I would be foolish to stay. I hitch-hiked home after walking out at first light the next day. Central Scotland was suffering a sort of hangover, with broken branches and slates littering the streets.

It turned out that the plane had crashed within a mile of me as I was descending the ridge. The pilot had ejected just before impact and survived but had died of cold, or possibly injuries caused by the parachute dragging him along the ground in the strong wind. Two Jaguars were flying together along Glen Orchy, the lead pilot said to pull up as they were too near the ground for the weather conditions, but when No2 came up above the cloud the leader had vanished and could not be contacted by radio. One of the largest SAR operations in the British mountains in atrocious winter conditions took several days to find the pilot's remains, wedged by the wind in a gulley beside my descent route down the SE ridge. The discovery was made by a civilian volunteer mountain rescue team and caused some controversy because their help had been refused and only RAF and police teams were involved for the first 4 days. It was initially assumed that the pilot was in the wreckage so even the start of the search was delayed until excavation of the crash site revealed that he had baled out. The pilot had most likely died before they started looking for him. Subsequently civilian teams with their expert local knowledge have been involved from the outset in SAR. The wind, cloud and snow had meant I heard and saw nothing, not even the sound of the planes in flight or one hitting the ground close by.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Undisputed Masters of the Solent

Wintry sunshine and an empty sea now that December is here.

Jet Skis are a distant memory and the last of the yachts and gin-palaces have retired to their winter quarters, leaving us undisputed masters of the Solent: or so it seems. Five months of lone but not lonely paddles under the silver-grey cloudscape. The mudflats alive with the calls of winter visitors....

...Also the season of silly hats...

It is always a surprise that first warm weekend of late Spring, to see the hibernating flotillas of sails and noisy motor craft breaking their winter sleep.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cycling in Mid-Wales

Away from the sea at the weekend, we did a few miles in Mid-Wales. A mixture of trail centres and some cross country. The Gorlech trail at Brechfa is a nice 2 hr run with the usual exciting downhill at the end to make certain all the memories are good. Coed Trallum at night, like kayaking everything is at least a grade higher in darkness, proved tricky with extensive logging and nasty erosion of the black trail certainly making it 'severe', even the blue trail was hard enough to follow, a wallow of mud and broken branches in places. We were the only visitors.

The Syfydrin trail at Nant yr Arian ticks all the boxes, taking in all the downhill at Nant yr Arian plus a nice cross country loop with some interesting rocky bits on the tracks and fine scenary. Plus the red kites of course.

Syfydrin -Nant yr Arian

Photographs cannot capture the adrenalin and fast moving attraction of the downhills, you are always too busy staying upright to get the camera out. However, a quick search on YouTube will give a flavour of the runs mentioned.

Then for some proper cross country; the Doethie valley and surrounding hills. This proved to be hard work, and the bridleways roundabout not always obvious, untraceable in places with farm yards, fences and forestry, but a very rewarding area as well. Altogether, we had managed to complete about 3,400m of ascent, and no doubt the same amount of downhill over the weekend. So had good reason to feel a little stiff on Monday morning.

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Friday we launched from Sandsend just NW of Whitby, plenty of parking and an easy launch at LW. Two days before the waves had been crashing up over the car park and part of the sea defenses had fallen in. Even today, returning at HW was not so easy, this corner of the bay concentrates the swell.

Along to Whitby, the harbour has a complex entrance of an outer funnel outside of the older breakwaters. There is a gap between these on the East side (see just above Liz's bow) , but on the West the gap has a sill with a bridge over it, swell can escape, but not the kayaker. At LW there was little movement, but the pilot says that; 'tidal flow is insignificant within the bay, but 3-4kt may flow across the harbour entrance'.

Sunnyyyy! and a chance to explore blogger etiquette now that we recognise each other from the web.

In the entrance to Robin Hood's Bay a strange sea beast was respiring energetically sending up clouds of spray.

A gap in the swell and the beast reveals itself to be the boiler and engine of a wreck.

Landfall in Robin Hood's Bay, this would not be an easy landing at HW even in the light swell we have today.

On the way back, Liz paddles inshore to look at something.

The swell rises up; hiding; boat, body, head, finally even the hat, and I hear the wave breaking.... Tow rope ready? Yes it is, and I prepare to paddle hard to the rescue.

Still afloat..... the swell had only caught her stern then playfully let her go.

This really is a fine coast.

Back at Whitby,

we enter the port, suddenly so busy after the empty sea, even a rescue helicopter circling overhead.

Now to plan our exit. It is quite busy with shipping in and out and the threatened 3kts across the harbour entrance is, improbably, a reality. Improbable since it should be almost slack water according to the tidal atlas and running East to West if anything, not West to East, there must be an eddy in the bay. This makes a race sweeping around the west breakwater and streaming out through the gap in the east side and cutting diagonally across between the piers in a violent eddy. The moment, in front of hundreds of onlookers, to get the break-in just right. An exit option in the west like in the east would be useful, but the sill is sucking dry in the swell, so a spirited attack on the current at the west entrance is needed. Once out of the tide, a gentle paddle back to Sandsend. Not such an easy landing and an ice cream van strategically parked across the top of the steps didn't allow space to manoeuvre our 5.20m around. Oh well, it was the end of a near perfect day out.

A few days based in Saltburn

Wednesday morning was bright and sunny at Saltburn. However, the swell was on the large side, and, despite having our helmets in the car, we decided against tackling it. Magic seaweed had it at 9' and Windguru 8'.

We drove along to Skinningrove, thinking there might be a deep channel out through the waves, but it was closed out with 3m waves dumping a long way out.

From 200m up on the cliffs between Skinningrove and Boulby, the scale of the swell is obvious, with sets breaking over 1/2 nm out to sea. We met the Rainsleys later in the week, at sea, under Whitby light house; they had also decided against launching on this section of coast on 'Big Wednesday'.

Thursday was overcast and threatening, but launching at Runswick Bay posed no problems.

The swell was down to 4', but even so we had to stay well offshore to avoid the well spaced larger breaking sets. The cliffs are 100-200m high. The pilot predicts weak tidal flows along this coast, but at one stage when we should have had maybe 0.5kt with us, it was like paddling through treacle even with the F3 tailwind. We shot back against the wind. Complicated eddies along the coast.

We heard a rumble, and a then crash, as a substantial cliff fall left a cloud of dust blowing along the beach. There were a few fossil hunters on the beaches after yesterday's swell, so we paddled in a close as we dared, hoping not to see a casualty. No-one seemed to be around, so it had not been set off by an incautious geological hammer.

Staithes is a picture post card village, despite the Boulby potash mine behind it. Surf was breaking over the reefs on either side, but a narrow deep water channel leads straight into the harbour.

Monday, 24 October 2011

A rare sight: pintail ducks on the river

Stormy at the weekend, so we launched from this weir, a stones throw from my parents' home.

Autumn colours, laughing as I let my stern be carried backwards out over the weir. Why do I have to flirt with the possibility of an embarrassing exit from the photo?
Then up river into the tide, 'current' as I believe it is called in freshwater.
The viaduct is the normal Summer limit of navigation, and even then a bump and a scrabble up over a couple of gravel runs. Now with more water and boats that can make way uptide much faster than our playboats, we could master the rapids, even if it was mm by mm at times, and paddle beyond the Ormsides.

Here making use of the side channel believed to have been cut by the Romans as they improved the navigation as far as their fort at Verteris (now Brough).

Dark was falling as we slid home downtide and downwind, practising breaking in and breaking out.

Was that dark head swimming across the river an otter?

Postscript: Friday 17th February 2012 we watched 2 otters, female plus 3/4 grown cub, making their way in and out of the water for 2 miles along the banks here as dusk was falling. A magical stalking session.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

First Time on the Water

Remember that pep talk prior to sitting in a kayak for the first time? The 'Dancer' was the perfect boat and the sunshine last Friday ideal for a first trip on the water with some friends from Germany.

The Continental Ferry Port was busy and we had to wait for an inbound banana boat...

so big compared to us, gliding in with 2 tugs. We kept well clear, fearing some turbulence from the propellers, but at minimum revolutions, it barely disturbed the water.

Then on around Whale Island, passing HMS Bristol, shepherded by the Anas acuta,

and heading off across Portsmouth Harbour.

A lovely day on the water as we made our way to Portchester Castle for ice cream,

then back again to Tipner, still smiling after 5nm.

Portsmouth may not be bucolic, but it is a fine spot for a first paddle; come to that, any paddle.