Posts belonging to Category Equipment

For Sale – Valley Nordkapp


Valley Nordkapp

The Valley Nordkapp that is for sale. (Image taken Feb 2012)

Since acquiring the smaller Avocet, Alan hasn’t been using his Valley Nordkapp anywhere nearly as much as such a pedigree kayak deserves. He has therefore decided to sell it.

Nordkapp description from Valley:

“A genuine evolution of the kayak that initiated the design trends most Sea-Kayaks now follow. Continued development ensures it remains the benchmark expedition-capable sea kayak.

The current Nordkapp is an evolution of the design used for the original Cape Horn and Nordkapp expeditions of the 1970’s. Indeed the original prototype was produced with the needs of the Nordkapp expedition in mind, hence the name! The first production versions even incorporated developments due to feedback from these early expeditions. This process has continued ever since, each generation of paddlers pushing the boundaries and providing feedback that is then incorporated into this, our flagship, expedition capable sea-kayak. Since its launch it has proven itself in almost every sea and ocean around the globe. Whilst the current Nordkapp shares many of the handling attributes of the original the design has evolved to meet the needs of the modern paddler resulting in a fast, comfortable and user friendly expedition capable sea kayak.”


Details are:

  • White deck over white hull with black decklines and trims.
  • 3 1/2 years old – one careful owner. Rarely used in past year and 1/2.
  • Fully functional (Valley) skeg
  • All hatch covers, hatches, foot pegs, decklines, seat etc. in pristine condition
  • Minor surface abrasions on hull (as to be expected)
  • Very minor spider crack to gel coat in one very localised area (< size of 1 pence piece).
  • Fitted Silva deck compass
  • Excellent condition
  • Length: 18’(548cm)
    Width: 21”(53cm)
    Depth: 14”(36cm)
    Weight: 51lbs (23.5kg)
  • Location : West Coast of Scotland (Clyde Area)
  • £1350

Photos below.

Contact me here or by leaving a comment.

Life in balance

Yoga balanceIt started off with yoga class. Each week, our teacher designs a sequence of asanas to address a specific focus, for example: back bends, forward bends, hip openers, twists or, as was the case last week, balance. When Jude informed us that we were about to embark upon a balancing adventure (or words to that effect), I readied myself for the voyage of inward discovery that this usually entails.

The thing about balance is that it is not a given. It could go either way. It takes effort and concentration and, as our teacher pointed out to us, when you are balancing – be it in tree pose or crow or eagle or whatever – you are not thinking about anything else. After arriving at yoga class with a head full of chatter, stress and judgements, it is no bad thing to empty it all out whilst tottering on one’s tippy toes (or hands) and quite possibly, in the process, discovering previously unknown capabilities. Even so, the prospect can cause some pre-asana anxiety, perhaps because we aren’t very good at handling uncertainty and balancing is, in a way, a state of sustained uncertainty.

With this in mind, the following day I set off to do some rolling practice. I’ve recently been working quite diligently on norsaq and hand rolls, but on my previous outing, I lost my hand roll completely and my norsaq roll seemed a bit of a struggle. This left me with a sense of unfinished business which is quite a distortion really. I mean, if I were to get hung up on unfinished things, there would be rather an endless list to ponder (the other 30+ Greenland rolls, learning to speak French, the housework …). But still, the thought of having lost my hand roll  irritated me like velcro underwear, and I had to address it.

Balance BraceAt some deeper level, I intuited that there was a missing link in my versions of those rolls that don’t involve a paddle. I’ve mentioned before how a Greenland paddle acts as a teacher and, certainly, rolling with this ancient technology is a bit like grasping a hand from the past. When the paddle is there, I have found that it can guide you through the water and allow you to position your body appropriately, without struggle,  if you let it. Without the paddle, the rolls were all down to me and seemed to require a lot more exertion and striving. After starting off badly, oomphing my way through yet another failed attempt, I reminded myself of the advice given to me by Mackayak in Orkney which was to focus first and foremost on the balance brace. I also recalled being inspired by this particular video which clearly demonstrates effortless hand rolling up into, indeed, a balance brace. I had only ever experienced this before with the help of my paddle as part of a butterfly roll. I therefore realised that it’s not all about desperately competing for success on the back deck, so much as simply reaching a state of  balance.

I proceeded to practice slipping on and off of the deck of my kayak with the aid of my paddle, then letting go of the paddle whilst maintaining the brace. I then focused on getting back on to the back deck in one swift move as this essentially constitutes the last part of the roll. Next up, I tried a full norsaq roll. For the first time, I did not aim for glorious success in one movement, but rather I sought to simply reach the surface of the water and stay there. To my delight, it was a quite achievable thing, and then purely a case of getting from there to the back deck as I’d practised. Next, I tried it with my webbed rolling mitts, with the same result. A breakthrough!

Just like in yoga, balancing in Greenland rolling is all about clearing out distracting thoughts (of anxiety, success, failure, unfinished housework) and simply concentrating on holding a steady bearing right in this very moment. In many respects, it is a Middle Way, a path of moderation and equilibrium between the extremes of hopeless defeatism and questionable triumph. Perhaps in times of uncertainty, it’s the best path to take.

Rockpool Isel, how do I love thee?

Rockpool Isel

Rockpool Isel

Let me count the ways!

It’s been almost 2 years since I became the proud owner of a Rockpool Isel kayak. I think it was Fate that brought us together as, quite simply, I don’t believe I could have found a kayak that could be more perfect for me.

I am a 5′ 5″ (1.524m) tall female weighing 8 st 4 lbs (116 lb, 52.6 kg).  The Isel is designed for “the smaller paddler” and features a “snug fitting cockpit”. This sounds highly appealing to smaller paddlers, however, I admit to having a little, er, flirtation, with another brand of kayak “designed for the smaller paddler” that left me less than convinced of the suitability of such models. The Isel, however, is a quite different animal and I knew immediately upon testing it that I could trust it.

First of all, it is an excellent fit. With correct footplate and seat positioning, I can sit relaxed in the kayak and my legs are in constant, comfortable contact with the thigh braces. This affords a feeling of real control and, combined with the stability of the kayak, I simply feel safe and secure. I also added a thin layer of foam into the conveniently located hip pockets.

All this safety and security doesn’t make for a boring kayak. Indeed, the Isel is manoeuvrable and nippy and I am able to turn it in high winds without difficulty. Because of its harder chines, it sticks nicely when edged and I get instant feedback on how far to go. It loves to pick up waves and, although I am not the bravest of surfers, I have had fun scooting along on a following sea.

Two Isels on the water

Two Isels on the water

Other features that have particularly impressed me include, firstly, the adjustable footplate. I am not a fan of foot pegs, although this is a very personal preference. I developed sore feet when paddling kayaks with foot pegs and this simply isn’t an issue any more. I know people comment on not being able to stretch their legs when a footplate is present, but I find that I can do so simply by straightening my legs out. I dare say that I have found the ideal positioning of the plate and seat in order to allow good contact along with a little room for manoeuvre. Secondly, lower back pain used to feature quite regularly when I paddled other kayaks, but no more. This could be because of the adjustable (and removable) glass seat design and the lumbar support provided by the back rest (and/or because I have toughened up a bit since my earlier kayaking days – yoga helps). Thirdly, I love Rockpool’s unkinkable wire skeg design. On those inevitable occasions when the kayak is plopped on the beach and the skeg is down, it is no longer a potentially trip-ruining event.

I have frequently received comments from fellow paddlers as to how much happier I look in rougher water since acquiring the Isel. I went through a bit of a rough water confidence setback a couple of years ago after a good trashing in the aforementioned unsuitable “smaller paddler” kayak. The Isel has helped me overcome this, such that I believe I am now at an appropriate proficiency level for someone of my experience on the water.  For me, it has taken a great deal of the fear out of paddling and I now find myself seeking out and enjoying conditions that used to fill me with trepidation. I have been out in up to F6 (F7 if you count gusts) mostly in the Cowal/Clyde area, and various tidal conditions elsewhere, and have had no issue with control, windage, tracking or speed. I use the skeg minimally, really only in cross-winds and downwind when surfing.

The kayak is excellent for rolling and, importantly, for self-rescuing too. When practising self-rescues with other kayaks, it has often felt like wrestling an alligator. In comparison, the Isel practically lays out a welcome mat and offers you a leg-up to get back in.

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Just when I thought I’d realised and appreciated all of the Isel’s good qualities, I recently discovered another major bonus – it makes for an excellent Greenland rolling kayak! As I mentioned before, the harder chines, the lower profile and lower rear cockpit rim are perfect for Greenland style (layback in particular) rolling.

It might seem like I have nothing bad to say, which is true. The closest I can come is that, naturally, being a smaller, low volume kayak, there is not a huge amoung of room for gear in the hatches, although it is possible to camp out of it on short trips if you pack as if you were backpacking, say.

As Rockpool point out on their Web page, the Isel doesn’t have to be used by smaller people only, and Alan has proved this by sneaking into mine for Greenland rolling practice. He might not be able to load the kayak, but he can certainly roll it.

I wouldn’t swap my Isel for anything. It is a wonderful kayak that has brought out the best in my abilities and has made my kayaking journey a real joy.

Valley Avocet Review

Reviewer: Alan

The reviewer is a 5′ 11” (1.524m), 165 lb (75 kg) male paddler.

Valley AvocetI have owned and paddled a composite Valley Avocet for a couple of years now. It has been my everyday kayak, ie the one I use for day trips. At only 16’0” long, it is a short, low volume kayak. It is extremely responsive to edging, and very easy to control in all kinds of conditions, with minimal windage.

Valley sea kayaks are extremely well built. They tend to be some of the heaviest kayaks that I have lifted on and off of roof racks, but they do have solid glass lay-ups, for which Valley are renowned. There is no flex on any surface when leaned upon.

Valley boats have a traditional feel with rounded edged hulls in the centre, which allow them to be edged easily, and the Avocet is no exception. This is accompanied, however, with a very good level of primary stability. The rounded chines also allow the kayak to handle larger conditions well, with the kayak riding over waves with great ease and paddler security.

Valley Avocet load stability chart

Valley Avocet load stability chart

Paddled empty, I sit bang in the middle of the stability specification that Valley publishes, so my experience is one of optimal stability for this kayak. This, however, does really make it a day trip kayak only. At 280 litres (of estimated capacity since Valley doesn’t release volume figures) it may well be a bit small for anything but very short camping trips. The extra weight of camping gear also pushes the kayak into the non-optimal range for stability, and makes for a wet paddling experience, with the deck riding so low with someone of my weight and size in it.

Valley AvocetFor me, the standard cushioned Valley seats are very comfortable, and I can easily sit in them for long days out without experiencing pain or numbness (although I do recognise that this will not be the same for everyone). I have added in some extra foam padding for hip connection and a snugger fit, and the sides of the seats have adjustable ties that allow you to easily strap the foam in. I have had no problems with the seat despite frequent use for the last two years, so my experience is that Valley seats are very robust and comfortable.

The paddler’s physical thigh/knee connection with Valley kayaks has often been the subject of debate on paddling forums. I have read some critiques of the lack of thigh braces in Valley kayaks (especially when compared with some other kayak manufacturers), and can confirm that the thigh braces on Valley kayaks are placed where either the knees or, if you are lucky, the thighs actually make contact with the inner hull/deck or where the hull/deck meets the cockpit coaming. Valley provide 5 mm self adhesive foam with each new kayak for the owner to customise the comfort and fit, and the foam is required in my experience. The Avocet, being a smaller kayak, has a lower deck than some other Valley models, and as such offers better thigh connection for someone of my size. Having said that, my connection isn’t as secure as in some other manufacturers kayaks with more aggressive thigh grips, but it is enough to feel secure when rolling.

I have used the Avocet in many kinds of conditions, from dead flat calm to F5/6, following sea, beam seas etc, and can honestly say it is one of the most pleasing, stable, responsive, fun-to-paddle kayaks I have come across. I have been told that I always look happy when out paddling in the Avocet, and there is good reason for that –  I feel in control of the kayak, and not the other way around!

All in all, I really enjoy this kayak and look forward to hopefully many more years of paddling it.

A weekend with a Rockpool GT

Guest Post from Alan

Rockpool GTThere’s not a whole lot of information or reviews on the Internet about the Rockpool GT, so I thought I’d offer my findings based on my short experience of paddling it. I am a 5′ 11” (1.524m), 165 lb (75 kg)  person.

I had been visiting Karitek in Ayrshire to test out a P&H Cetus and a Cetus MV that for various reasons I really didn’t fit (but that’s another story!) and decided to try out the Rockpool GT. In a short 20 minute test, after adjusting the Rockpool seat and footplate a bit, I convinced myself that I could fit into the kayak and was ready to go. A trip around the small loch near Karitek doesn’t afford adequate testing upon which to base a decision to purchase, but initial impressions were that this kayak was quite voluminous, very, very easy to edge and to hold on edge and turn in a really tight circle. I decided that it was worth trying out for longer and in more realistic conditions, so I hired it for the weekend.

On arriving back in Cowal, there was a small F3 WSW wind blowing and creating some wave activity on the Clyde, so I quickly launched and spent 30 minutes trying the GT out in a little chop. Once again I was quite impressed at the kayak’s ease of control. I could edge it with large degrees of comfort, and turn very easily (there is a nice sweet spot on edge that it sticks on and provides maximum manoeuvrability). Again I was quite impressed by the GT.

The GT is marketed as a large boat that has good primary and secondary stability, and handles like a much smaller kayak. This is indeed very true, and certainly as advertised.

On Saturday we went for some rolling practice, and I found the GT to be a very easy kayak to roll (considering the large volume), however, I did find that I had to pull myself around under the kayak sometimes before starting the roll, which I attributed to its volume. The back deck on the GT is low enough to do lean back rolls, but these may be impeded slightly by the freeboard when unloaded with someone of my weight in it.

Rockpool GTI really wanted to take the GT out in more challenging conditions and paddle it for longer, so on Sunday we went on a trip down Loch Fyne from Strachur to Castle Lachlan and back (22 km) expecting the forecast F3/4 SE winds to give us some wave activity. Much to my disappointment, and highly out of character for the weather in this region, it calmed down to F1/2 and even less on the way back . The 5 hour paddle did, however, serve its purpose in terms of finding out that the GT fit was not a comfortable one for me, despite my having played around extensively with the seat and footplate positions. Paddling for short periods of time, I had no discomfort but, after about the 2 hour mark, my feet were aching from their positioning on the footplate (and my inability to stretch them out), I had sore thighs when engaging the thigh braces and, most noticeably, a very achy lower back from the backrest which was much larger than the one on the Alaw Bach/Isel seats that I’ve seen. I decided to make some changes to the seat position at lunch and see how much comfort I could achieve on the return trip. I still didn’t fit the thigh grips without really tensing up, so I moved the seat forward further to make a better connection. (One point of note about moving the seat forward so much is that it creates a lot of space behind the seat, and also makes it that much harder to clamber into to begin with). I certainly felt much better connected when I climbed back in after lunch, but only managed about 1 hour of paddling before my back was starting to spasm once more forcing me to see if anyone else wanted to paddle the kayak for the rest of the day!  It really is true that you have to  paddle a kayak for at least a day (preferably longer) to see whether it is the right one for you.

In terms of size, the GT is a large volume kayak (17′ 10″ (5.44m), 380 litres, 21″ (53 cm) wide), which has a lot of its volume above the waterline. The cockpit is an extremely large one but, with the adjustable footplate and seat, can be made to fit just about anyone. I did, however, feel quite small inside this cockpit. I think perhaps this kayak is geared towards a 6’+ 80kg+ paddler with lots of gear to carry.

Rockpool GTYou certainly notice that, paddled empty, the kayak sits quite high up on the water with quite a few inches of freeboard. At my size, I feel like I sit deeply inside the cockpit (my hips were about 2-3 inches below the cockpit rim, which is really too far). Quite a few fellow paddlers remarked on how high in the water I looked. They mentioned that the bow was often sitting above the waterline. They also remarked at how the kayak looked very ‘big at the front’, which is indeed where much of the volume lies. I tried to block out mental images of the A300-600ST (Super Transporter) ‘Beluga’ plane when they mentioned this!!

My impression is that, if you are a 80+ kg paddler, at least 6 feet tall, and you are looking for a stable, manoeuvrable but voluminous kayak, then the GT is well worth a look. If you are under 6 feet and less than 80 kg, you will struggle to fit the cockpit and the kayak may not make enough contact with the water at the waterline.

What Rockpool have done, however, is produce a kayak that does what the label says ie a large kayak with a small kayak feel and, if they ever produce an ‘LV’ version (I thought that it could do with shedding at least 1” of deck depth), I’d be very interested in trying it out, but perhaps with a different backrest!

Photos courtesy Julia Darby

A Tale of Two Drysuits

Typhoon Ladies Multisport

Typhoon Ladies Multisport

As one or two of you might remember, I previously mentioned that Alan and I were on the cusp of purchasing a couple of Typhoon Multisport drysuits. As some months have now passed since taking the plunge (so to speak), I can report on how we’ve been getting along with them.

The answer is – very well indeed and we have not been disappointed. The suits are well made, they fit well and there has been no leakage so far. For the first time pretty much ever, Alan has managed to experience immersion without a wet bum or arm. Unlike some of the other Typhoon models, the Multisport neck and wrist seals are latex, not neoprene. The Ladies’ Multisport in particular is a nice fit (on me, that is) and really quite a stylish drysuit (you know you’ve been paddling too much when you start placing the words “drysuit” and “stylish” in the same sentence). It’s the little things that finish it off nicely, like the colour and the floral motif. I should add that the suits come in 11 different sizes for men, and 7 for women.

Typhoon Multisport

Typhoon Multisport

Alan has mastered the art of zipping himself in and out of his suit (ie using the back zipper), however, I lack that specific contortionist skill. The exposed brass zip can  stiffen up markedly so it’s a must to obtain some zip wax and keep it handy, or risk driving home in your suit, say. On the subject of the zip, my only preference would be that it was concealed rather than forming an elongated, “hypercurve” fin. I find it acts as a hindrance in getting my BA on and off, but that’s a small point.

You might be wondering if I’ve binned my Palm Aleutian XP drysuit. As recent photos will reveal, the answer is a definite “no”. It is holding out and the small amount of delamination that I noticed last year has not worsened or caused leakage. The neck seal has only just finally ripped and will be sent back to Palm for its second replacement along with the wrist seals (for their first), which would be considered quite normal wear and tear.

Comparing the two suits, the Multisport would appear to be made of harder-wearing, slightly thicker materials. The only downside to this is that it can get a little hot on warmer days, although this may also relate to the darker colouring versus the Aleutian’s reflective hues. And so, I wear my Aleutian on cooler “summer”/spring/autumn rough water or wet practice days, whereas I reserve my Multisport for winter wear and/or extended wet practice.

My only other observation is controversial. I put the question to you, can a drysuit affect your roll? Something feels different when rolling in the Multisport. I’m fairly sure it isn’t “mental” as it took me a while to realise the connection between what I’ve been wearing versus rolling performance at the time. I think it might relate to buoyancy. Or drag. Or the fact that it’s blue and not yellow.  Anyway, as Alan all too readily reminded me, it shouldn’t matter as one should be able to roll well in a Santa Claus suit. But that’s being silly. I doubt I’d ever be able to roll well in a red suit.

In addition to ourselves, a few friends have now gone down the Typhoon Multisport path, no doubt attracted by the 3 year warranty as much as the UK-manufactured quality and impressive pedigree of Typhoon who, in their own words, supply  “… all the major military markets around the world, commercial customers such as the RNLI, British Waterways, Environment Agency and the major Oil Companies as well as the recreational users in the Diving and Leisure Markets.”

Sea kayak comparison chart

I’ve been accumulating in my notebook vital statistics (length, volume and width) relating to various makes and models of craft. I refer to this quite often and thought maybe others would find it useful. Alan has kindly added to it to make it more comprehensive. So here it is.

Drysuit trials (and some tribulations)

Pam in Palm Aleutian drysuitA couple of years ago, I mentioned on this blog the fact that Alan and I had each taken ownership of a Palm Aleutian drysuit. Being that sufficient time has now passed to form a valid assessment of their performance, it’s perhaps appropriate for me to share our findings. The drysuits have been in regular use over the past 2 years, probably being worn an average of once per week in the past year, although Alan had a bit of a break last winter due to injury. The suits have been subject to regular immersion through rescue (including rolling) practice, but no abuse. They are always rinsed thoroughly after each wearing.

After about six months, Alan noticed that his feet were constantly damp after a paddle.  Whilst on a camping trip last September, my neck seal split and we took this as an opportunity to send both drysuits back to Palm for neck seal replacement, and repair of Alan’s suit’s feet. Palm replaced both the neck seals and the feet on both dry suits in record time, charging only for the seals. The leakage that Alan had experienced was recognised as a design flaw and Palm are now using new, improved materials for the feet which they had duly attached to our suits.

Disturbing scenes

Disturbing scenes

Fast forward a year, and Alan’s drysuit  is experiencing leakage that is manifesting around the backside area, requiring a towel on the car seat on the way home to spare his blushes. A fellow Royal West club member kindly loaned him a sophisticated drysuit inflation device, involving a pump and several plastic bottles to allow testing of where the leak might be emanating from. In scenes reminiscent of a horror flick, anyone stumbling across our bathroom might have been alarmed to see us drowning our chubby (and headless) paddler “hostage”, but it was all in the interests of scientific research*. We then became fairly certain that leakage could be traced to the rear entry zip area.  It was not long after this that we noticed that the suit is, to our despair, delaminating substantially primarily in the middle back area, but also in small areas elsewhere. The delamination is visible as bubbly ripples where the top layer of the fabric is separated from the lower layers.

Being that I have worn my suit a bit more than Alan has worn his, one would expect that it would have been showing greater signs of wear and tear. Aside from the neck seal, however, which needs replacing again, my suit has performed remarkably well with no leaks being detected. It too, however, is starting to show signs of delamination. Interestingly, Alan’s suit is much more faded than mine.

The Aleutian is not a cheap drysuit, so we are a little disappointed that, after 2 years – and well out of the one year warranty – we are now faced with the prospect of replacing ours. The need to replace the latex seals is entirely expected, but delamination seems  premature. Browsing online, we’ve discovered a few other folks with the same issues, eg here.

Rather than incurring continued repair bills, the more prudent thing might be to look for an alternative suit. We have now turned our attention to the Typhoon range and so far we have not heard or read anything bad about them. Their 3 year guarantee is also very attractive.

* No headless, chubby paddlers were harmed in the testing of this drysuit.

Moving goalposts (and pushing envelopes)

Fairlie to Cumbrae and backThe summer days of July have well and truly arrived here on the west coast of Scotland. How do I know?

  • The calendar says so.
  • The schools are all on holiday.
  • It’s blowing a gale and raining torrentially.
  • The garden now looks like a bombing range.

Yes, gone is the tranquility of balmy May and June and now we have some proper Scottish summer weather.  Never mind, we have used this as an opportunity to switch focus from journeying, to expanding our skills and experience in less-than-tranquil conditions.

Alan is happy

Alan is happy

On that note, I’ve seen a change in Alan recently. Gone is the mild-mannered, fair-weather paddler I loved and in his place is this other chap, whose eyes light up at the sight of white caps, whose shoulders slump at the prospect of calm seas, who laughs (I’d say a little demonically) at wind and waves. All of which places yours truly in an awkward position.

Anyone who knows me as a kayaker will not immediately leap to associations of high-risk, adrenaline-soaked feats of paddling derring-do at the mention of my name. Rather, they might think of a nice, sensible day out in nice, sensible conditions with perhaps some seal-spotting and a bit of lunch thrown in. Regardless, and no matter how much I drag my heels along the sand, somehow I find myself bobbing about on lumpy seas more than my nice, sensible self thinks desirable. Alan’s latest proclivity is therefore not helping.

On our way to Cumbrae

On our way to Cumbrae

The word came from Julia that a group was going out on Saturday and we were invited to join in. I’d seen the forecast of background winds of nearly 20 mph and gusts of over 30 mph. In addition, Julia used certain phraseology that caught my attention, such as: “looking for waves”, and something (that I think was intended as reassurance) about folks being available to “pick up the pieces if things go pear-shaped”. I duly convinced myself that this was not for me. No thank you. I would be perfectly happy staying at home sobbing at my complete lack of gumption catching up on housework. I’d even changed into non-paddling attire, when Alan informed me that wild horses wouldn’t stop him he’d quite like to go. He then advised that, for reasons of kayak-loading group logistics, he couldn’t double up with Julia and he’d therefore be in the car on his own … with an empty cradle beside his kayak …

My hat out kayaking

My hat out kayaking

So there I was heading down to Fairlie, trying my best to drown out all the little alarm bells sounding inside my head. I was reminded of my yoga practice, where certain postures are made so much more difficult by mental (and physical) resistance and I tried not to become my own worst enemy. Once on the water, we aimed for Great Cumbrae. It was a bit of a slog and I rued my inaction about pursuing a repair to my skeg. For some time, it’s been a bit sticky, to say the least. Once it’s down, it’s all the way down and no further adjustment (including retraction) is possible. I therefore prefer to leave it up. Lewis kindly reminded me to edge and this immediately assisted matters.

Nearing Millport

Nearing Millport

Upon reaching Cumbrae, we proceeded towards Millport. With southwesterly winds blowing, the south end of Great Cumbrae is associated with a certain quality of wildness, something I’d been anticipating since our destination was made known. Upon reaching that locale, Alan’s eyes duly lit up while mine didn’t so much light up as fill up. Well, not exactly … but the waves did take on a slightly more formidable quality and I found myself once again seated in the departure lounge of my comfort zone. Maria prompted me to remember that, as much as there is a certain awe and beauty in the waves, it’s actually better to paddle vigorously through them as opposed to stopping to admire them.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

Inside my head

Lewis also helped me with various pointers and assurances, including an exercise in paddling with one’s eyes closed to gain an appreciation of the fact that the waves are merely moving up and down. This certainly helped me swap out the images inside my head with something more akin to, you know, reality. It is very much a head game, where the senses undergo a bit of an onslaught and the mind takes off and runs with it.


A nice spot for lunch

Observed by a lone grey seal, we stopped for lunch at one of the little islands in front of Millport just in time for the sun to come out. Thereafter, it was back into the rough and tumble for a play. The word “play” does suggest fun and enjoyment, doesn’t it? I could see that that was the experience of my “playmates” and I envied their confidence. I found heading into the wind quite do-able and would probably have ended up on the shores of Little Cumbrae had it not been agreed that we were not to do that. I am not super-keen on paddling downwind in such conditions. I like to know what’s behind me and my imagination runs riot as soon as I feel my stern lift. I then become caught in a battle between learning the skills to best handle the surf and stay upright, and not becoming distracted from staying the heck upright. Out on the waves, rational thought becomes optional. But, like everything else, it’s a question of getting used to it. Meanwhile, Alan’s grin was getting wider.

I get by with a little help ...

I get by with a little help ...

We re-grouped to head back to Fairlie. This meant negotiating the bigger waves again side on and I very much appreciated the company of Lewis as we rounded the bend to the east side of Great Cumbrae.

Alan had already practised his roll successfully out off Millport, but I saved mine for the end. I’ve had a little trouble on practice nights lately and have only now determined that it relates to using my spare (Lendal) paddle. My roll is feeling great with my Werner paddle, but not so great with the Lendal. Another little piece of the blade angle puzzle to figure out. On this day, I was using the Werner, so all was well and there were no tears before bedtime.

Heading back

Heading back

During the return journey, I noticed that, already, the goalposts had moved, the envelope had been pushed (and sealed and mailed off) and that what I would have thought of as a bit choppy when we started out, was now a welcome patch of (relative) calm. This is why opportunities such as these are so good for anyone who wants to become a more self-confident paddler. I read a commentary recently about how a fear of dying can become a fear of living. Likewise, in the world of sea kayaking, a fear of conditions can, if one is not careful, become a fear of learning.

Seeing as I wrote this on July 4th, I don’t mind declaring my interdependence on, and appreciation of, a group of friends who happen to be rather good at paddling. It has made all the difference to Alan and me to be able to push ourselves and, judging by that grin that’s still on Alan’s face, I have a feeling those goalposts aren’t going to stay put for long.

And I, I don’t want no money from you
I don’t want promises that you’ll be true
You can do anything you wanna do
All I ask is that you … you push me to my breaking point …

The Breaking Point, Shooter Jennings and Hierophant, Black Ribbons

Around Inchmarnock

Heading to InchmarnockThe word was out that we would be going for a paddle around the island of Inchmarnock, which greatly pleased Alan and me as we’ve had had a notion of just such a trip for a while. Inchmarnock lies to the west of Bute and is south-east of Ardlamont Point on Cowal. In other words, it’s right in our back yard. The island has an interesting history and we studied up the night before by consulting with the trusty The Scottish Islands by Hamish Haswell Smith, and of course the Sea Kayak Photo Blog.

Our launch point was the appropriately named Carry Point in Kames, as we duly carried our kayaks to the water over the rocky beach exposed by the low tide. A couple of our number borrowed Julia’s robust C-Tug trolley to trundle their heavier vessels over the rocks, a feat that impressed me greatly (note to self: this trolley could be handy!). Overnight the Met Office had been busy removing the previously forecast gusts from their predictions and it was now set to be a calm day. This came as a disappointment to Dave who was testing out a Rockpool GT. Never mind, we stoically endured the tranquil conditions as we headed south to our destination.

Arran Mountains

Arran Mountains

The crossing to the island was set against the beautiful backdrop of the Arran mountains to the south-west, which always makes for good photos. After about an hour’s paddling, punctuated by some much-needed kayak adjustments for Dave, Inchmarnock finally increased in size and we became aware that the island is, in fact, inhabited, a fact that I’d failed to appreciate despite (or because of) my recent hasty studies.

The natives were nervous

The natives were nervous

The inhabitants appeared to be quite nervous and, as we landed on the pebbly beach and started digging out our respective lunches, we became conscious of being avidly watched. My approach to take photos was met with stumbling retreat and it became evident that our hosts were not accustomed to visitors, especially ones clad in bright yellow. Our audience was in fact a motley crew of Highland cattle and I have since established that they are residents of an organic farm on the island, themselves deemed to be “organic”. At least I hadn’t started giving them names …

Geese overhead

Geese overhead

After lunch, we proceeded down the east coast of the island and the wildife count began to increase at a great rate of knots. Seals were aplenty and my progress was slowed by my attempts to photograph them all. I have now established with some scientific certainty that the sound of a camera lens focusing, no matter how quiet, is audible to seals and is a signal to immediately dive.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea stop

Inchmarnock is popular with the greylag geese set and we saw many of them flying (and heard them honking) overhead, as well as on the water and on the island itself. There were lots of little goslings following their parents around and we were reminded that, despite the chilly temperature, it was well into breeding season. We also saw: oystercatchers, curlews, plovers and more, and lots and lots of herring gulls. I marvelled at the clarity of the water, with news of the horrific and ongoing massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico playing on my mind. My heart aches for the people and wildlife who will suffer as a result and it is to be hoped that it is somehow stopped soon and that it does not enter the Gulf Stream to make its way northwards. We can never take for granted the beauty that nature has gifted us.

A spot of hail

A spot of hail

Having rounded the island and paddled up the western side, we stopped for afternoon tea at an idyllic beachlet on the north-western edge before setting out on the crossing back to Cowal. During the journey back we saw our second porpoise of the day, a sight that is always a thrill. We went through a few different seasons during that crossing – from spring sunshine to winter hail and even some chilly gusts after all. And then we were back at Carry Point, the tide having come in and thus making it not so far to carry this time.

A spot of sunshine

A spot of sunshine

The thing that strikes me so often on such excellent local trips is that they are precisely that – local. When growing up in Scotland, my main ambition was to go travel and see the world. Certainly I’ve done a little of that and it’s been all very nice. But maybe it’s ironic that I now want nothing more than to explore my own country. And all I really need is a kayak … and maybe a trolley.

All the rusted signs we ignore throughout our lives
Choosing the shiny ones instead
I turned my back, now there’s no turning back
No matter how cold the winter, there’s a springtime ahead

Thumbing My Way, Pearl Jam, Riot Act