A winter’s paddle

If someone had told me earlier this year that most of my kayaking would be done in the winter months, I would have pointed out the error of their assumptions. As it turns out, it seems that my paddling gear has barely had time to dry before I am back out on the water during these shorter, colder days. As I have perhaps mentioned, it’s been my very good fortune to find friends who are enthusiastic and serious kayakers and for whom a little cold weather is no reason to forego a good day out on the water.

Last Saturday was one such cold day. As we were enjoying some settled conditions, however, it seemed guaranteed to be sunny. Winter sunshine provides some of the best lighting for photography. With that in mind, Alan (who is still healing from injury) accompanied us in order to provide a roving shuttle service and land support where needed, as well as on-shore photography.

Kayakers on Loch Fyne

Kayakers (and ducks) on Loch Fyne

Suitably attired in warm paddle-wear, our group launched at picturesque Otter Ferry and the low sun lit up the landscape as we crossed Loch Fyne. We landed at a small beach and, failing to find a 4 star eating establishment, we consumed our respective packed lunches, compensated by the beauty of the scenery before us. The sun managed to keep the temperature bearable.

 

Scottish sea kayaker in winter plumage

Scottish sea kayaker in winter plumage

At this point, it is useful to note what constitutes adequate and warm apparel for cold-weather paddling. I find I am perfectly toasty in a decent fleece base layer and a drysuit, accompanied by mukluks, a neck gaiter and – my latest prized possession – a fleece-lined Gore-Tex cap with earflaps. The appendages most at risk of freezing off a kayaker are, however, the hands. I have tried neoprene gloves, but find that they alter my grip of the paddle to the extent that certain wrist/arm tendons start to hurt after a while. I also haven’t found them especially warm. Since I’ve taken possession of borrowed Alan’s Kokatat pogies, however, I have decided that they are my accessories of choice as they do a great job of keeping the icy breezes off of your hands whilst allowing you to grip the paddle shaft as you would normally.

Synchronise your paddles

Synchronise your paddles

Following lunch, we ferry glided our way back over Loch Fyne and made for Castle Lachlan by sunset. At this point in the journey, the sky started to really put on a performance, glowing with the most beautiful pastel and russet hues. We spotted Alan’s car by the shore as he stopped to take pictures of us. He then drove on in order to take photos of us landing at Castle Lachlan where, inspired by the recent photographic achievements of a certain well-known Scottish paddler, we practised some synchronised paddle strokes under the direction of Wing Commander Andy. All that was missing were some vapour trails.

Sunset at Castle Lachlan

Sunset at Castle Lachlan

Our arrival at the ruin of Castle Lachlan was almost exactly timed with the sun finally going down around 3.30 pm. This in turn coincided with an immediate decline in temperature. Upon withdrawing my hands from my pogies and hauling my kayak ashore, I instantly lost contact with my fingers to the point that I was almost launching a search for them along the shoreline. I have never known such rapid freezing of digits! Our group quickly abandoned the kayaks and beat a path to the nearby InverCottage Restaurant where – oh bliss – a cosy fireside awaited. I took urgent advantage of the empty seat next to the hearth and all but crawled into the fireplace. Alan had to point out that my fingers were melting before I would remove them. Tea, coffee and hot choc all round ensured that we soon thawed out sufficient for some of our party to venture back out in order to retrieve cars from our launch point. The rest of us volunteered to “look after” the kayaks – an onerous duty involving a good deal of mutual reassurance that the kayaks would probably be fine as we continued to warm ourselves by the fire.

Upon returning home, Alan and I reviewed our collective haul of photos. The trouble with having 2 photographers at work is that there are (at least) twice the number of photos to sift through. Still, such superb conditions warranted ample recording. I’m sure that there will be plenty of duller days to spend reflecting on a perfect winter’s day of paddling.

4 Comments

  1. Dan Thomas says:

    The last three Summers have been so rubbish that it starts to feel like the best paddling weather always comes in the Winter. Winter hillwalking has attractions that Summer hillwalking cannot provide but I used to have trouble seeing the special appeal of Winter paddling. It seemed just like Summer paddling, only colder and with less daylight. It took a while for me to start appreciating the season. Mostly it’s the birds – the fulmars and puffins go away, to be replaced by brent geese and great northern divers; the guillemots and razorbills stay here all year but change their plumage so much that at first I did not realise they were the same birds.

    Then one day about a year ago I found myself crunching through mile after mile of sea ice. I would never have thought that the balmy waters of the Gulf Stream could freeze hereabouts but it was a very particular set of circumstances that day – a flat calm, a sheltered shore, shallow water, and a tide that had come in across five miles of frigid sand flats. It was as magical as it was unexpected.

    Enjoy your Winter paddling!

    Dan

  2. pamf says:

    Hello Dan – Your note has enthused me all the more for going out in the “dead” of winter! I know what you mean about the guillemots in particular – they sent me leafing through my bird books for some time. I think I identified them through a Web forum actually. I haven’t paddled through ice yet, but who knows this weekend. I did have ice form on the kayak once we got off the water last weekend. It’s all good!

    Enjoy your paddling too – hope you get some done over the holidays. And Merry Christmas!

    Pam

  3. Looks like you’ve had some superb trips lately, these cold but sunny days are just perfect for paddling. I am also a fan of your gastro paddling approach, but then, I am always the one who brings the cake/biscuits/bacon/excessive amounts of food on normal paddles!

  4. pamf says:

    Hello Northern Kayaker – Good to hear from you! I will add you to my links forthwith! I discovered your site only yesterday and was about to comment (which I will still do). Can you believe that my friends went out without me yesterday (Sun)? Just because I put an announcement on Facebook that it was too snowy for me to go paddling, they somehow took me seriously! I felt quite left out and wished I had been out there. Never mind, I’ll be back on the water again soon, snow or no snow! With cake of course 😉

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