Fyne and dandy

Arran mountains from Kilbride Bay, Loch Fyne

Arran mountains from Kilbride Bay, Loch Fyne

On days when the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and the temperature is balmy (well, above 15°C), it is not unlike a form of torture to find oneself working indoors. On such days, the call of the kayak becomes deafening and I find that I am doing my customers no favours by attempting to continue working. Resentment festers until I am incapacitated by belligerent rage. I get distracted.

So, in the unpredictable climate of Scotland, on such days it’s often better to just down tools and get out there. There will be plenty of rainy days to catch up with work.

I am learning, however, that the weather forecast can be a little “quirky”. This is not a startling revelation to Scottish readers who know that the only reliable forecast is the one obtained from looking out the window. But I refer in particular to the prediction of wind. For example, more than a few times Alan and I have convinced ourselves that the occasional 30 mph gust is within our remit, as long as the background wind remains at the forecast 5 mph level. Alas, it’s more often than not been the case that we have then encountered one day-long 30 mph “gust”.

Cirrus clouds above Loch Fyne

Cirrus clouds above Loch Fyne

On our most recent excursion, such occasional gusts had indeed been forecast. We entered Loch Fyne from Portavadie and decided to head north. It was all very pleasant, if bumpy, for about the first 15 minutes but then I became aware of that familiar feeling of teetering over the fine line that differentiates “a wee bit lumpy” from “where did I put the flares?”. A quick shout over to Alan confirmed that he was experiencing the same feeling and, abandoning all our recently learned, fancy-schmancy bow-ruddering techniques, we hefted our kayaks somehow, any-old-how against the waves into a 180° about face. Influencing our decision was a quick scan up ahead which confirmed that the sea state looked equally lively further north.

I have no problem running up the white flag of – not so much surrender as – admission of limitations. In kayaking, taking a risk can quickly end in tears, a costly rescue and several embarrassing column inches in the local rag (who’d no doubt print our ages). It’s inconvenient, to say the least. When it’s just the 2 of us out together, Alan and I are not inclined towards heroics. It wasn’t like we were attempting the Tsangpo Gorge, just going for a wee putter on Loch Fyne, that’s all.

Ascog Bay lunch stop

Ascog Bay lunch stop

But, facing the prospect of having to abandon our paddle altogether, we were pleased to realise that the “gusts” were calming sufficient to allow us to explore the coastline south of Portavadie. Lunch was consumed at picturesque and tranquil Ascog Bay, which we had to ourselves, and there can’t be much more beautiful scenery than that looking out towards the Arran mountains from Kilbride Bay where we also landed for a quick sunbathe. The water was so clear, I contemplated a little rolling practice, but was overcome by stage-fright upon realising that five a small crowd of people (and a dog) had appeared on the beach, constituting a potentially critical audience for whom I was not prepared.

Poor technique on Loch Fyne

Poor technique on Loch Fyne

During the southward journey, I became conscious of my previously injured left wrist tendon “tweaking” a little. Of course, I am once again using my Werner Cyprus paddle, having had a little break to use my Lendal Kinetic one during the last couple of outings. You might think, therefore, that there can only be one conclusion – that my Werner paddle is causing me injury. I would argue au contraire – the Werner is much too expensive well-designed for that to be the case. It is a poor workman who blames his tools. Indeed, the problem lies with the user, ie me. I started to pay close attention to the exact point during my forward stroke when I was feeling the tweak and it became clear that it was during the catch phase of the opposite (right) blade. I examined where my left hand and wrist were positioned at that point, and compared them with Alan’s. And therein lay the problem – my wrist was flexing, or bending back on itself, and my hand was bending away from my thumb, putting strain on the tendon leading to the thumb, whereas Alan’s wrist remained entirely neutral throughout the stroke.

Alan at Ascog Bay

Alan at Ascog Bay

I should explain that Alan has had to perfect his paddling technique due to the fact that he suffers from a career-ending repetitive strain injury in both wrists (caused by years of computer-intensive work). Ensuring correct wrist positioning for him is more than just a comfort adjustment, it’s the difference between paddling and not. So he’s a pretty good person to go by.

Inadequate rotation was part of my problem too, as well as a general lack of mindfulness of hand and arm positioning (wrists bent, arms bent, quite a mess really). It seems that the Werner paddle’s neutral crank, which differs from the Lendal’s “modified” crank, has somehow “encouraged” this little non-neutral idiosyncrasy of mine. Very ironic and, as I mentioned, not the fault of Werner. The good news is that I am now a lot more mindful of my hand/arm/wrist/torso positioning which should lead to (hopefully) many years of more comfortable paddling.

And so, managing to forestall capsizing and debilitating pain, we were able to explore a portion of Loch Fyne successfully. And what’s the definition of success in sea kayaking? Possibly that feeling of sun-burned, wind-blown, salty, sea-sprayed contentment that accompanies one on the drive home.

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