Posts belonging to Category Greenland skills



Lapping the couch

No matter how slow you are going, you are still lapping everyone on the couch.

The CouchYou may have encountered the above quote already. Obviously, it’s intended to serve as a spark of consolation when you find yourself trailing at the back of the kayak bunch, or when flubbing rolls, or simply whenever you’ve been comparing your efforts with those of some superhuman who probably only exists in your head. Even although you are a little slow/stiff/out-of-condition, you’re at least not as bad as that pizza-guzzling slob on the couch, also in your head.  But there lies a problem with the quote itself – it is once again doing comparing. This time, it’s you and the aforementioned slob. And that’s when things get tricky.

I’m kind of done with dualistic or competitive thinking such as: me versus (insert name of sporting hero here), me versus my 22 year-old self, me versus the imaginary couch-dweller, me versus you. It deals in delusion and doesn’t achieve much. Often only half the facts are available and many assumptions are made. For example, the person on the couch could be injured, or ill. There are many kayakers who have been in that very position and it has perhaps been the primary reason for them abandoning another activity, such as hillwalking, and taking up paddling instead. Alan is one of them.

Greenland rollingInjuries can teach you a lot (perhaps that’s why many kayakers are so wise). First of all, they force you to slow down and assess. This in turn breeds acceptance. Then you start to learn, not just about your injury, but how to help it heal and how to prevent it recurring. If it’s beyond that, then the human spirit has a way of finding other life-affirming interests. It can be a real voyage of discovery.

Many people have come to Greenland kayaking as a result of bodily incompatibilities with a Euro paddle. All it takes is a wrenched shoulder to prompt an investigation of more traditional methods of rolling and forward progress. The Inuit did know a thing or two, long before the Europeans. And therein lies a world of opportunity, with all sorts of morale-boosting accomplishments waiting to be attained, as well as a strong connection to the very origins of kayaking.

And where there is life, there is always hope – or rather, possibility. After finally overcoming an old hip problem, and many comeback attempts over the best part of a decade, not to mention the anguish associated with an unrelated but sombre diagnosis, I have unexpectedly returned to running. Heel-striking runnerOf course, this is an activity that has a strong association with injury. It didn’t ever occur to me that this shouldn’t necessarily be the case and that – like yoga, swimming or kayaking – there is a technique to be mastered which can prevent injury (and which I’m learning!), that state-of-the-art shoes might be harmful (heel-strikers beware!), that cross-training is vital, as is yoga plus strength and flexibility exercises generally. I’ve also been learning about the incredible benefits of plant-based whole foods for fuelling and rebuilding the body cell by cell (so many ultra-athletes can’t be wrong), as well as therapies such as Trigger Point and Active Release Technique (a foam roller is your friend). And I used to think I knew about running. Everything in life boils down to – and let’s get dualistic for a moment – awareness versus ignorance.

Most of all, I’ve been learning about the mind’s ability to focus on the positive, or the negative, and to therefore contribute towards a corresponding outcome. Years ago, I talked myself out of running and gave up on it featuring in my life again. It’s come as a real surprise to welcome it back, simply because I opened one more little window of possibility. I’m just working on shorter distances at the moment. Maybe one day they’ll amount to something. Maybe they won’t. Maybe it’ll just be nice to run along the shore road for a bit. Regardless, it’s a treasure. Kayaking has taught me to leave my Type A-ness at home and just try things out, to enjoy the scenery, to see what the sea and the wind bring. It can be applied throughout life.

Felix BaumgartnerOf course, when I spoke about making comparisons, I didn’t mean to confuse this with gaining inspiration from others. As I watched Felix Baumgartner fall 128,000 feet to Earth, I was dumbfounded by his bravery. If I were silly enough to make comparisons, let’s just say I was several places behind Felix when they were handing out the awesome – but that doesn’t stop me from being inspired by him. Even so, there is more to that particular story. Falling through space might not have fazed Felix, but wearing a spacesuit did, and the claustrophobia he experienced in practice runs nearly became a showstopper.  As I mentioned, sometimes you only know half the story.

For now, I’m thankful to be lapping the couch, whether someone happens to be on it or not. But I’d encourage anyone seated there not to give up, no matter how pointless it all feels. You just never know what windows are going to open and what sea breezes might come rushing in.

Because you are alive, everything is possible.

– Thich Nhat Hahn

Making a Greenland Paddle

Maybe it’s just part of traditional kayaking, but there comes a time when you simply want to try making your own paddle. That time arrived for me not too long  after spending a weekend with Kayak Ways, where I was surrounded by Greenland paddles (GPs) of various shapes and sizes, some of which I liked more than others. It became apparent that Greeenland paddles can be a very personal thing.

One thing for sure was that a large sized paddle blade seemed not so desirable. Indeed, one remark heard when analysing a GP from a UK supplier was, “The best thing about this paddle is that they have left enough wood on it for you to carve off”! I realised  my king-sized GP was too big and I had to get a smaller paddle blade! Preferably one with an oval loom shape. This was my first encounter with an oval loom and I really liked it’s feel compared to the rounded off square looms. Square looms are easy to index (orient)  but can be rather uncomfortable to paddle with for any length of time.

Using a draw knife to do bulk removal of wood on a paddle

Using a draw knife to do bulk removal of wood on a paddle

I had taken a few rough measurements of a paddle that I had especially liked (one of Turner’s, and with his permission), and my first thoughts were along the lines of getting a paddle-maker to make one, which is exactly what I did. The paddle came back and had just about the correct blade size, but without an oval loom. Indeed the loom was a rounded off square shape, as was normal for the paddle-maker’s own standard paddles, but not the oval shape that I’d desired.

After a bit of head-scratching I decided that the best option was to learn how to do some adjustments myself and perhaps eventually work towards making my own paddle to my own requirements. I fired off a quick question to a friendly paddle maker (Gerhardt at Ravenwoods Paddles) on the wonderful kayaking resource  that is Facebook, before embarking up on a crash course of  YouTube videos and examining some helpful documentation. I started to equip myself with some spokeshaves, draw knives and bench planes (many courtesy of a very active secondhand Ebay market). I hadn’t even heard of some of this equipment before, let alone used it (well OK, I’d heard of a bench plane!)

A bench plane used to plane a Greenland style paddle

A bench plane for planing the faces

Metal bench planes can be found quite easily on Ebay. They are pieces of equipment that you can buy quite cheaply new (perhaps not great quality) or for the same price second hand (better quality). I was able to pick up a few 2nd hand bench planes in very good condition, some even dating from the 1943-47 era! They just needed a tune up, sharpen, hone and were ready to go.

I managed to source some 3m x 100mm x 50mm planks of top grade western red cedar from a local wood merchant who bought them in for me. They worked out to be about £30 (GBP) per plank. One 3m plank is good for  making 1 x paddle and 4 x norsaqs.

It should be noted that, before I started this project, my wood-working skills were fairly rudimentary. The last woodwork training I had had was 30 years ago at school where I had successfully carved a large gouge in my finger (I still have the scar today!). My point is that you can do Greenland paddle-making yourself without a lot of technical expertise.

A spokeshave used for planing edges and sculping blades

A spokeshave used for planing edges and sculping blades

I started off by practising my skills with a spokeshave and a few different bench and block planes. I did this by continually sharpening and adjusting them and soon learned good techniques for shaving and planing the wood surface. It’s good to do this with just a cheap old bit of spare pine before going anywhere near a paddle! As my technique improved I decided to start by making a norsaq (hand held rolling stick) or two. These are small enough to not be too challenging, whilst they allow you to actually make something and improve your skills.

Norsaqs

Norsaqs

Several norsaqs later and it was time to make a paddle!

I determined my ideal paddle length (it’s really only the loom length that changes according to your shoulder separation) at 2.2m. As a rule of thumb you should be able to get your finger tips around the end of a vertical paddle with your arm vertically above your head. I chopped the 3m plank of cedar down to this value, bench planed the rough faces off and was ready to sketch out my paddle carving plans on the wood. Good, accurate sketched plans on the wood are a very important part of making a good paddle.

Sculpting the Greenland style paddle with a low angle spokeshave

Sculpting the paddle tips with a low angle spokeshave

There are a few good resources out there to explain making a Greenland paddle, but a seminal reference has to be Chuck Holst’s guide, available here. Another good guide is Brian Nystrom’s excellent  ‘Making the Greenland Paddle’.

Basically the procedure can be broken down into several stages –

  1. Plane the plank to true the edges and smooth  it for marking
  2. Mark on the loom and slopes
  3. Bulk removal of the slope wood (bench plane #6, #5, #4, or power plane)
  4. Mark outline of paddle (rounded blade faces and loom)
  5. Bulk removal to outline of paddle (draw knife, bench planes #5, #4, spokeshave, or band-saw)
  6. Sketch on centre lines and guides
  7. Sculpt paddle blades and loom shape using spokeshave(s)
  8. Sand paddle (perhaps the most fun part, as your paddle appears from a rough cut/spoke shaved piece of wood)
  9. Oil paddle (tung oil)
  10. Test paddle on water (important!)
  11. Modify paddle if required by going to back to step 7
The finished Greenland paddle

The finished paddle

These steps take much longer when you are working on your first paddle. They will, however, speed up when you understand the basic principles involved. My first paddle took me 3 days to complete.

Wanting to make my own identification mark, I used pyrgograhy (wood burning) to imprint a logo that I had designed. Pyrography is a delicate skill indeed and is a one shot process as you are actually burning the wood with a small hot tip.

I also decided while making my second paddle that I’d introduce gelcoat blade tips to mimic the bone tips used on some of the traditional Greenland paddles. Only time will tell how robust a solution the gelcoat is, but I used 3 coats.

Testing the Greenland paddle

Pam rolling with my Greenland paddle

Of course, the final important stage is to test your paddle out on the water! And perhaps make minor adjustments to it if you are not happy about something.

We’ve used it during a few rolling sessions, and I used it on my weekend trip around Luing and have been very happy with it.

The first paddle I have made is a thin bladed paddle with an oval loom and some flexibility. My second one (with the white tips) also has an oval loom but is a more rigid paddle with much less flex. Whether I like this more rigid paddle is still to be determined, but the beauty of making wooden paddles means that you have the option to make adjustments to them as an when necessary!

I strongly recommend that you consider making your own paddle. It can be a rewarding experience and creates a personal connection between yourself and your equipment.

Scottish Women’s Sea Kayak Festival, Isle of Bute

Heading south

Heading south

A few weeks back, Roddy of Kayak Bute issued an invitation to attend the Scottish Women’s Sea Kayak Festival on Bute.  I’d also agreed to assist Mackayak (or, as I like to call her, Lesley) with teaching some traditional skills on the Monday. I thought it could possibly be fun, which turned out to be quite a serious under-estimation of my experience.

The programme of events contained various skills coaching sessions including forward strokes, close quartering and rescues, as well as a a circumnavigation of Bute, a trip to the Cumbraes and the said traditional skills class. I signed up for the round-Bute trip over Saturday and Sunday. Even although the Isle of Bute is very near my home and I do frequent its shores, I’d never gone all the way around it – a bit of a glaring omission in my paddling resume.

The base for the weekend was the campsite and tea-room at the lovely Ettrick Bay. After arriving there early on Saturday, we proceeded by car to Kerrycroy Bay to commence the round-island paddle.

Justine explains the course

Justine explains the course

Keeping land on our right …

The conditions were flat calm for most of Saturday, and this was conducive with chatting to fellow paddlers and coaches. This seems to be my year for meeting famous kayakers, the stars of (watery) stage and screen. First it was Cheri and Turner of Kayak Ways in May, and now it was adventurer and film-maker, Justine Curgenven, whose DVDs and global travels have been a source of inspiration to me since my early paddling days. It’s hard not to be a little bit star-stuck! But Justine’s affable company gave lie to notions of celebrity. The trip was also led by senior coach, Morag Brown of Skyak Adventures, who it was nice to finally meet. We were certainly in good hands. Paddlers came from as far north as Orkney, the south coast of England, and many points in between. It was interesting to learn about  the differences in the typical paddling environment of each participant and I pondered what type of kayaker I would be now if I lived in an area of big tides and ocean swell, if a typical paddling trip over to a nearby island meant the Isle of Wight as opposed to the Isle of Bute.

Arran mountains ... and new friends

Arran mountains ... and new friends

Travelling down the eastern coast of Bute, we were accompanied by several inquisitive grey seals, flocks of oystercatchers and kamikaze gannets before encountering porpoises as we approached the bottom of the island. It was with some personal amusement that we reached the southernmost point of Bute, an area that has little hazard signs flashing in my head, to find barely a ripple.  Turning the corner, we were greeted with the ever beautiful vista of the Arran mountains. The sea did become a little more textured after we passed Inchmarnock and neared Ettrick Bay when the breeze picked up, but I tried not to fixate on the rather nasty looking forecast I’d seen for the following day and only called Alan 3 or 4 times for an update.

Just some of the kayak fleet

Just some of the kayak fleet

I certainly had something to entice me back to the campsite in a hurry and that was the anticipation of my beautiful new Tiderace Xcite S kayak being there waiting for me. Sure enough, Kayak Bute did not disappoint and a very special package with my name on it was sitting on their trailer. Just as I’d started to feverishly tear off the packaging, I was called away to retrieve my car from the day’s starting point – a  cruel tease, really! Not to worry, I was soon back and was greeted by a friend informing me that she really loved my new kayak. What?! My eyes had not been the first to behold it! I did manage to forgive Roddy for unwrapping my Xcite S in my absence as – who can blame him – it really is too beautiful to remain smothered in bubble-wrap. I fought my way through the crowd of appreciative admirers and then joined them in oohing and awing over my new black and red baby. There was a substantial number of  Kayak Bute’s fleet of Tiderace kayaks adorning the campsite throughout the weekend. Those attendees who had not brought their own vessels could pick and choose which shiny new kayak to try out – a fantastic opportunity, although I’m not sure how Roddy kept track of them all! Presumably he has counted them all back in.

On Saturday evening, a buffet dinner of culinary delights was supplied by the team at Ettrick Bay tea room, after which we listened to two very interesting talks. The first was an amusing review by Alice McInnes (aka Alice Tiderace) which traced the history of women’s outdoor attire through the ages, from the tweed skirts of yesteryear (whose “blowing up” potential was a substantial danger), to modern, hi-tech kit and apparel. Next was a presentation by Justine about her circumnavigation (with Barry Shaw) of Tierra del Fuego, the videos and slides from which had everyone riveted. It certainly put my own small paddling anxieties into perspective! I’m very much looking forward to seeing the entire film when it’s released.

A nice day for a launch

Ettrick Bay

Ettrick Bay

Come Sunday, we were set to resume our circumnavigation with Justine again, along with another top coach, Kate Duffus. We departed from Ettrick Bay into a stiff southerly breeze and a rather more interesting sea state.  This would be a good test of my comfort level in the Xcite S (which I’ll be writing more about soon). Suffice to say, I was a very happy camper (in every sense). Passing Tighnabruaich, we rounded the northern end of Bute and approached the Burnt Islands. Many remarks were made about this being the most scenically beautiful part of the journey – which says a lot considering we were shrouded in damp mist! I wished I could show everyone how lovely it is in sunshine, but they’ll just have to take my word for it. We were then sheltered in the Kyles and crossed over to stop for lunch on the shore at Colintraive beside the ferry.

Approaching Kames Bay

Approaching Kames Bay

Crossing back over to Bute and rounding Ardmaleish Point, the sea state immediately became more exciting and it doesn’t get much better than to find myself enjoying every minute of it in my new kayak, with my Greenland paddle, and in the company of a great group of capable kayakers. Some of us ended our journey at Kames Bay where the omnipresent Kayak Bute van and trailer awaited, but Justine and Kate invited anyone who still felt energetic to continue on to complete the circumnavigation. I decided that, having paddled that part of the coast previously, my rounding of Bute was complete (and, no, that’s not cheating!).

After an excellent and much relished dinner at the tea room (I’m still not sure how it’s humanly possible to produce such a variety of desserts – I think elves may have been involved), we listened to a talk given by coach Sally Gregory on weather and tides. Sally’s presentation was succinct and informative, such that my sluggish brain could cope (and, besides, we got notes to take home). Next up was a very special highlight. Global adventurer, Sarah Outen, the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean, had arrived to deliver a presentation about her latest “London to London via the World” expedition. I had read Sarah’s book, A Dip in the Ocean: Rowing Solo Across the Indian Ocean, and followed her progress online, so it was an unexpected treat to meet her in person. Her account of her recent rescue after being battered by a typhoon whilst rowing across the Pacific was nothing short of sobering.  I think we all felt a bit of the emotion that lay behind her reflection on that experience and wished her every success as she takes fresh bearings to continue her adventure.

An ancient tradition

It's yoga, Jim - but not as we know it

It's yoga, Jim - but not as we know it (Photo courtesy Ruth Clark)

By Monday, the weather had decided to put a very damp stake in the ground just as we were unstaking our tents. Packing up a sopping wet tent is always a joy, only to be surpassed by trying to keep track of kit (there aren’t enough Ikea bags in the world …). Being that the ultimate objective of Greenland skills training is to get wet, however, the rain was no impediment to our eager band of students. We started out with familiarisation with skinny sticks, reviewing a collection of various types of wooden and carbon (Northern Light Paddlesports) versions. We went on to discuss the history of traditional Greenland kayaking, and the equipment and attire used. This was followed by a spot of stretching, combining 2 ancient traditions by using selected yoga poses  to prepare for the body movements of Greenland rolling. I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve ever done yoga in a drysuit in a deluge of rain. Slipping into a tuilik, I embraced the role of “glamorous assistant” while Lesley prepared to perform some special Greenlandic magic.

Lesley demonstrates

Lesley demonstrates

The group was introduced to Lesley’s sleek, black Tahe Greenland kayak which she went on to skilfully and  gracefully roll, explaining each move knowledgeably. It was then everyone else’s turn to try out for themselves a bit of balance bracing, rolling and forward paddling and several firsts were achieved and rolls were polished up. The “Green virus” (as Turner calls it) was duly spread, and I believe that there may now be a small uptick in sales of Justine’s “This Is The Roll” DVD.

I am inspired

Scottish Women's Sea Kayak FestivalParticipants were asked what they liked best about the Festival and, without hesitation, my response was the inspiration it provided me. I don’t mean to get into a discussion on the merits of a women’s event other than to say that perhaps, being a woman, I relate particularly well to the experience of other women.  The enthusiasm and willingness to share skills displayed by the coaches present (Justine Curgenven, Morag Brown, Kate Duffus, Carol Lang, Sally Gregory and Lesley Mackay) were a source of encouragement and motivation in themselves.  There were also the attendees with their varied backgrounds and experiences of sea kayaking and, indeed, of life – from the skilled northern and southern coasters, to those who were sharpening up abilities after some absence (undeterred by a bit of wind), to those who have endured significant injury and illness. Lesley, of course, with her beautiful Greenland expertise and solid insights, has been of great help to me for some time now, and it was especially enjoyable to work and share with her. And Sarah’s courageous adventures are enough to grip anyone in the force-field of her determination and positivity.

Participants were also asked what they thought could be improved. I’m not sure if my request for a little more sunshine is reasonable. At least there were no midgies.

Thank you!

A big thanks goes out to everyone who made the Festival such a great success, including all the participants. In particular, Roddy and Sally of Kayak Bute, and Alice of Tiderace Kayaks, who were the engine room of the event. I was seriously impressed by their ability to manage the formidable logistics.  The fact that profits were going to the RNLI made it all the more worthwhile.

The word “Festival” is synonymous with “celebration” and it truly did feel like I spent the weekend celebrating with others how very fortunate we are to be sea kayakers.

See Photo Gallery