The pleasure and the pain

Paddling along the east Bute coastline

Paddling along the east Bute coastline

It started out just like any other kayaking day trip – pleasant conditions beckoned (albeit a little windy in places) and we were eager to get out on the water before summer was once again cancelled. We jumped in our kayaks at Toward and headed over to Bute before proceeding southwards to Kilchattan Bay. That part was very enjoyable and we (along no doubt with the resident seals) kept a sharp eye out for the orca which, most excitingly, was recently reported to be sojourning in the Firth of Clyde.

We turned into Kilchattan Bay accompanied by a playful grey seal (who apparently hadn’t got the memo about the orca). We were then greeted by 2 fellow kayakers who were emerging from the shelter of the bay. They were paddling 2 very eye-catching kayaks – golden, starfish-covered, and very glam-Rockpools. They advised that they were spending a couple of days paddling around Bute, but had pulled in due to lumpy conditions. They were reassured to hear that conditions appeared to have calmed since we had ventured on to the water at least.

At Kilchattan Bay, Bute

At Kilchattan Bay, Bute

We contemplated crossing the Clyde over to Cumbrae at this point, however, the unrelenting procession of outbound warships dissuaded us. Fresh from their “Joint Warrior” NATO exercise, we feared that, still in war games mode, they might not be able to resist a bit of target practice if we couldn’t paddle out of the way quite fast enough. And so we simply reversed our route but then found ourselves, troublingly, doing a little battle with the outgoing tide combined with the easterly wind. Monitoring my progress against the “transit point” (of sorts) provided to starboard by the colossal Maersk Beaumont anchored off of Cumbrae, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t making much headway at all. Of course, this is a rather massive ship (recently joined by another huge Maersk ship also in layup – it’s a veritable parking lot out there), so perhaps not the best gauge for assessing advancement. Instead, I concentrated on the Bute shoreline to port but, sadly, that only served to confirm that it was indeed heavy going.

The next thing I noticed was a growing pain in my right elbow. Shortly thereafter, my left elbow came out in sympathy. My increasing focus on this latest discomfort was interrupted by a pleasant encounter with a flotilla of very smart TideRace kayaks which had set off from Castle Toward. Alan commented that he’d never seen so much bling on the Clyde in one day. The paddlers were in fact trainee instructors from the Castle Toward outdoor centre and were accompanied by Roddy, the eminent kayak coach from Bute (who we regularly bump into on our seaward travels these days) and Peter, who heads up the training centre. They too were on their way to circumnavigate Bute, which seems to be the thing to do. After a blether, we were back on our way and my attention was re-captured by my sore elbows.

It was then that Alan noticed that his skeg appeared to be non-functional and, with some dismay, he recalled experimenting with it before going ashore. This is rather atypical behaviour as Alan rarely uses his skeg. Unfortunately therefore, it had been in a downward position when he dragged his kayak on to the beach, thus causing the cable to kink and rendering it essentially knackered.

The aforementioned glitches served to compound the experience of paddling in increasing chop and it really did become quite challenging as we approached Craigmore. I mentally rehearsed my recently rediscovered self-rescue abilities, but felt these may well be impeded by the very real presence of quite boisterous waves. We soldiered on bravely in the hope that some shelter would be afforded by the upcoming approach to Rothesay Bay. My elbows were screeching out in protest just at the point when, thankfully, sea conditions did calm. We paddled against the wind back to Toward and I was very glad to make it home, this being the first trip where that goal had not been guaranteed.

But my troubles were not over because, as the evening progressed, my left elbow pain descended into much more acute wrist pain which lasted through to the end of the week. Even today, it is not completely healed. I am now left contemplating the cause. The suspects are: gripping the paddle too tightly – but I really did pay attention to this and I swear I wasn’t, or insufficient torso rotation – um, not sure. Could it even be the tightness of my wetsuit cuffs cutting off synovial fluid to the tendons? (And yes, I do have a PhD from Google University, in case you were wondering).

Still, as my mother (who, incidentally, used to holiday in Kilchattan Bay as a child) would have said, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. It says a fair bit that, despite the tribulations of my latest outing, I am still looking forward to getting back out there with the gannets, the goosanders, the seals, the orcas … and the bling.


  1. Dan Thomas says:

    Goodness – we’d never thought of our boats as being glam before. The glitter is just there to disguise the scratches, of which there are plenty. After we met I spent the rest of the day worrying that I’d been a bit abrupt with you. Normally I’m a sucker for bobbing around and chatting but that day I really wanted to get around the south end of Bute. I wanted to have the land between us and the forecast easterlies. The plan worked too, but we still had a lively sea the next day wherever the winds were funnelling through the low ground in the middle of the island.

    I hope the wrists and elbows sort themselves out. These things usually do.


  2. pamf says:

    Hi Dan – Wow, the power of the Interwebs! Indeed, we wish you both could have hung around longer so we could have ogled your kayaks – and chatted – some more 🙂 They are very beautiful boats (I am a sucker for sparkly things). Glad to hear that you got safely around the island. The weather was a bit changeable and one had to be be brisk and take advantage of any lulls, so we quite understand.

    It was nice to meet you. Perhaps we’ll bump into you on the water again some day. We’ll be sure to recognise you – as long as you don’t change kayaks!

  3. Hi Pam— How is the elbow pain? I too have experienced that exact type of pain paddling in heavy winds and chop. I video taped myself one day to recreate the pain and I have discovered that I am guilty of a few things. After eight hours of paddling I was flexing the wrists during some braces, and stern draws. The video also relieved that I did not have a consistent relaxed grip on the paddle in heavy winds and chop.

    See if you can recreate your experience and record it on video.

    My remedy before I paddle is to stretch / warm up my wrists before I paddle rough weather. I wear a paddling glove that has wrist support and does not constrict tendons. And I focus on paddling on a relaxed grip even when I am excited with what the water is doing. I also do the same wrist exercises that rock climbers do while I am at work. I sit at a desk and type a lot.

    —I hope this helps, Jeff

  4. pamf says:

    Hi Jeff – Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. The elbow/wrist pain appears to have gone. I’ve experienced no discomfort since that episode, although I have been using my old Lendal Kinetic Touring crank shaft paddle, having loaned my Werner Cyprus paddle to a friend. Plus conditions have been very calm. Of course, I refuse to countenance that the Werner paddle could be causing a problem (too expensive!), but feel it relates more to my paddling style and rougher conditions. I think you may be right about the consistent relaxed grip. I’m also guilty of forgetting torso rotation on occasion. I like your idea about videoing and stretching too. Will give it a go. Thanks again. Pam

  5. gavin says:

    thanks Pam, for the link that gives a small explanation into the 3 container ships…a pal an myself left Toward and cruised around them before heading off again….that was Jun 21 and we saw a group of paddlers as we left Toward, were you amongst them?

  6. pamf says:

    Hi Gavin – We weren’t in that group, but we can be frequently spotted in the Toward vicinity. I think the container ships are all up Loch Striven now. Apparently 18 more are to join them – see .

    Won’t be very scenic!

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