Posts belonging to Category Valley Avocet



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.

Garvellachs … not quite as forecast

Leaving EasdaleThe forecast looked quite benign, so our group set the intention of departing from Easdale and circumnavigating the Garvellach Islands in the Firth of Lorne. Certainly, there was little in the way of wind as we set out from the stony beach next to Easdale’s harbour and headed west. This is a renowned area of varied tidal activity and so provided some particular interest for us, having spent the bulk of the past few months paddling in our local waters where the tide simply goes in and out. In the Firth of Lorne and amongst its islands, the rather significant tide flows up and down and around and about as well as in and out (sometimes also shaking it all about). Generally speaking, the plan was to catch a bit of ebb tide on the journey south-west and a bit of flood tide to push us back.

Approaching the Garvellachs

Approaching the Garvellachs

A fair portion of the outward journey was spent vacillating over whether or not I was going to be too hot in my drysuit (a fairly pointless exercise, being that I was unlikely to change out of it on the water). Fortunately, the sun only made momentary appearances and the clouds kept interior drysuit temperatures bearable.

Garvellach IslandsWe cruised south-west, observing Fladda lighthouse before rounding the northernmost Garvellach island. We continued down the west coast of Garbh Eileach, admiring the dramatic cliff faces along the way, including evidence of a prehistoric rollercoaster, before turning in to a small, bouldery bay for a lunch stop. Soon we were continuing past the remaining islands in the chain and the lighthouse at the southern end of Eileach an Naoimh.

Prehistoric rollercoaster?

Prehistoric rollercoaster?

We had been encountering some wave surges scooshing up and down the rocky cliff-bases during our journey, of which those group members not afflicted with the debilitating condition known as Gelcoat Anxiety Syndrome (GAS, also known as Barnacle Avoidance Syndrome) took full advantage. We also used these swells to make paddling through the gaps in the islands and skerries more fun.

Epic win! Photo by Graham Milne

Epic win by Andy! Photo by Graham Milne

As we turned around the southern end, we were confronted with similar surges and one of our number took a most daring and heroic ride on a big, fearsome wave over the skerries, a move which could firmly be placed in the category of “epic”. The heights of heroism attained were only marginally lowered in our estimation by Andy’s subsequent cry of, “I thought I was a goner there!”. (What not to say when clearly demonstrating awesomeness).

St Brendan was here (and St Columba)

St Brendan was here (and St Columba)

Further north-east, we stopped for a look at the surprisingly substantial remains of the monastery founded by St Brendan in 542 AD, visited by St Columba (it is believed that his mother is buried there) and later destroyed by the Vikings (who else?!). Nearby, 3 sea kayakers had already pitched their tents for the evening and we thought it would be a great  wheeze to suggest to them that all 8 of us were about to do likewise.  As it turned out, upon departing, we encountered an incoming trail of about 8 kayakers heading for that very spot, intent on setting up camp. It was indeed going to be a busy night at the monastery. And I hear there are ghosts.

We had anticipated that, as we travelled north-east, there would be a bit more tidal activity and even a teeny bit more wind. Indeed, wavelets were expected. At this point, I have a confession to make. As pleasurable as our paddle had been so far, I secretly yearned for a little more movement in the water. It seems that the weather gods picked up on my furtive hankerings and, in true be-careful-what-you-wish-for fashion, decided to whip it up a little.  Upon reaching the north end of the islands once more, Coach Lewis convened our group for a quick vote on the most favoured course of action and, with muscles warmed up and adrenaline pumping, it was agreed that a straight shot back to Easdale was called for.

Lovely jubbly! Photo by Andy McManus

Lovely jubbly! Photo by Andy McManus

At first, it was mostly about battling a north-easterly headwind in the F4-5 to region, but with the wind hitting the opposing tide(s), things became more exciting. Casting aside the “what if this gets worse” doubts, I instead focused on the “great to be alive” thrills of being shoogled about in the fray. One minute the waves were coming from ahead, the next from the beam. I could tell, however, that my trusty Isel could handle it and I was very glad I’d worn my drysuit.

I was vaguely aware of a motor boat pulling alongside me, only to realise it was Lewis who proceeded to ask me for a rating of my experience of the “wavelets”. The first word that came to mind was, “Fun!”. What a difference time and the right kayak makes.

An hour and a half after leaving the Garvellachs, we were back at Easdale. As we packed up for the drive homewards, it felt great to have had the opportunity to experience such a varied and memorable trip. A big thanks to the team we paddled with, including Lewis, and Julia (especially for all the driving).

Wind

Windy ClydeI remember a good few years back, there was a movie called “Wind”. The film was not about gastro-intestinal issues, however, it was all about sailing (some Americas Cup thingy). If the past few weeks are anything to go by, it could equally have been about west coast of Scotland sea kayaking. Indeed, wind has been the central theme of kayaking conditions for what seems like  ages and ages.

This actually wasn’t in the plan. I’ve mentioned previously that, when I started out sea kayaking, I was perfectly happy to go nice little coastal paddles on calm days. Nothing too choppy, nothing requiring any more than a steady, forward stroke and a steady, forward gaze (because moving one’s head could make the kayak “tippy”). But that was so 4 years ago. Since then, I have discovered that, if you confine your paddling to purely calm days in Scotland, you’ll get out about  one day a year (ie “summer”).

I guess it is inevitable therefore that paddlers in Scotland must confront wind, and perhaps therefore, that old adversary – fear.  Or should I say – the mind.  I’m going to quote Mr Gordon Brown here, from issue 2 of Ocean Paddler, in which he says:

“If all we do as sea kayakers is paddle along nice parts of the coast we get very good at paddling along nice parts of the coast. This does not prepare us for the day that will come when that nice part of coast becomes nasty, and the gentle swells we have become used to washing around the rocks become the foaming jaws of some rabid sea serpent waiting for its next victim.”

Our past several outings have all featured lots of wind (the blowy kind), including a couple of runs up and down the Kyles of Bute in up to 37 mph gusts. An exciting push was had down the Kyles, wherein the impending departure of the Rhubodach ferry improved my back-paddling skills markedly.

Crossing the ClydeMost recently we celebrated the fourth anniversary of our taking up sea kayaking by going out for a small workout against F4/5.  Alan had stopped for a moment and I noticed him having a little wobble reminiscent of the day we entered our “tippy” RM kayaks on the flat calm of Loch Eck on our first ever kayak outing. This time, as I approached, to my surprise I heard him mutter that he was having some difficulty. It was only when I’d caught up that he clarified that his difficulty related to juggling “devices”  – windfinder, camera, phone, iPod (OK, exaggerating a little … ) on his deck along with a paddle. (Note to self: don’t ever buy Alan a GPS). I dare say the Inuit had a similar problem (hence all the fancy Greenland rolling), but with different types of devices. But it is interesting to note that some inroads have been made in 4 years in expanding our respective comfort zones. No longer do our sighs of disappointment relate to frothier sea states (I draw the line at rabid sea serpents), but rather to the flat calm that we used to seek out.

And, by the way, what is a comfort zone exactly anyway? Life isn’t comfortable! So seeking out comfort is a false goal – plus there may  be plenty of time for that in the eventide home.

Approaching DunoonNo blog post on wind at this point would be complete without mentioning the Great Storm of 23 May 2011. What a humdinger! I’ve scarcely known a storm like it, let alone one in May. Winds across Scotland reached up to over 90 mph (I reckon even the best paddlers were grounded) and a lot of damage occurred, not least to the trees. In many areas, it now looks like autumn, there has been so much wind burn.  Apparently, the jet stream had thrown a wobbly. But never mind the jet stream, with maximum day temps of 12-13°C lately, I’m wondering where the Gulf stream has gone. In recent weeks, I have experienced something approaching hypothermia during rolling practice, both in a drysuit and – more ridiculously (just because the sun showed its face) – in a wetsuit. When I start to feel a complaint coming on, however, I just think to myself, “What would the Inuit do?”.  Right now, a tuiliq’s looking appealing.

Times like these

Yes, there’s been a bit of a hiatus in blog posts. I do apologise. But fear not, we have been out on the water, despite adversity, enjoying mostly calm yet chilly conditions.

Kilcreggan to Greenock

Kilcreggan to Greenock

We accompanied Julia on her momentous return to the water after ACL repair surgery. In case her surgeon is reading this, I would just like to assure that we were exceedingly sensible and conservative in our undertaking of this trip. After some rescue practice in F6, we went for tea at Kilcreggan. OK, I’m kidding about the first bit. I can confirm that conditions were flat calm and that no ligaments were harmed in the completion of our outing.

Later, during another flat calm day out, this time on Loch Long, the mirror-like reflections were disturbed only by our paddle strokes and made for some great photography.

Not a breath of wind

Not a breath of wind

As we made our way northwards, we were almost flattered by the attentiveness displayed by the MOD Police as they pulled alongside us in their motor vessel to question our destination. I dare say that answering, “We’re just popping over to take photos of your lovely military installation”, would not necessarily have been perceived as the witty riposte that we’d intended, so we refrained. Our sensible (and truthful) answer of “Loch Goil” allowed our questioners to bid us a “nice day” before going on their way.

Loch Long

Loch Long

Later, their colleagues in a RIB swung by our lunch spot just as I was about to set up for some rolling practice. Determined not to provide them with any free entertainment (I might have considered a small fee), I waited for them to lose interest before plunging into the chilly water (me that is, not them). We later learned that HMS Ark Royal was due to arrive at Loch Long in a few days’ time, to offload some armaments before being decommissioned. Perhaps that would explain the apparent security “sensitivity”.

Loch Eck lunch stop

Loch Eck lunch stop

We also enjoyed a lovely winter’s paddle down Loch Eck and back, punctuated by a stop at the Coylet Inn where we were befriended by the ever-so-handsome and attentive Buster, the resident boxer dog.

We were back crossing the Clyde and heading to Loch Long again last weekend where we lunched al fresco on the bench at the Kilcreggan shore-front on the return. We hardy paddlers don’t mind a bit of snow on our picnic bench.

During the course of all this, however, as tends to happen when you’re busy making other plans, life has intervened, and tending to family illness has taken priority over matters kayaking (and blogging). Indeed,  it is at times like these that you become exceedingly aware of the impermanence of … well, everything. And suddenly, everything and everyone becomes a little more precious. Life is short and meant to be enjoyed – happiness is indeed a birthright.

So do me a favour and get out paddling! Buy that kayak you’ve been ogling. And the drysuit. Learn to roll (you know you can!). Plan that trip. And I don’t want to hear winter being used as an excuse 😉

We are all just walking each other home.”  Ram Dass

It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again

Times Like These, Foo Fighters

Back on home waters

Just down the road ...During our last trip, before leaving from Ballachulish, I noticed that Lewis had dug some laminated maps of our paddling area out of a folder labelled “Local Paddles”. This made me consider the definition of “local” and how it varies from one person to another. For example, if Alan and I were organised enough to have such a folder, it would contain a map of the Clyde, extending to Loch Striven, the Kyles of Bute, Loch Long, Loch Goil and Loch Fyne. Maps for far flung areas such as north of Oban would go in the folder labelled “Remote Paddles”, whilst everything else would go in the folder marked “Foreign (There be Dragons)”.

It just so happens that the bulk of our kayaking has been done in local waters, simply because it’s so handy. It also happens to be rather beautiful, and one can never get bored with beauty. A lowered carbon footprint is a nice little bonus. True to form, we were back on local waters this past Saturday, returning to Colintraive but this time leaving from Toward.

I read with some disbelief that the temperature was supposed to reach 2°C by 7 am. The brilliant sun shining through the window implied only warmth. I stopped short of grabbing my wetsuit (which is now in winter hibernation), but feared I might stew in my drysuit. To create a sort of compromise I wore only one layer of capilene as my thermal base.

Toward Sailing Club lifting yachts out

Toward Sailing Club lifting yachts out the water

We paddled past Toward Sailing Club, whose members were busily extracting yachts from the water by way of a crane. What could be sadder, I pondered, than removing your sailing vessel from the sea on a beautiful breezy, sunny day? I feel a pang locking my kayak up overnight (heck, I have friends who take theirs into the house with them), but imagine parting company until spring. We paddled past in an appropriately solemn fashion.

Soon we were in amongst the ever lovely Kyles of Bute, pausing to gaze towards the now vacant Loch Striven along the way. The half dozen container ships that had been in cold lay-up there have now departed, travelling emptily to an uncertain future in the Far East, last I heard. Loch Striven has been returned to its previously slumbering state with nothing more than a few bouncing bombs to attract any attention.

Northerly breeze

Northerly breeze

As we approached the East Kyles, the northerly wind was making itself known and I realised that, contrary to my initial fears, sweltering heat was definitely not an issue. It might be said that a disadvantage of paddling with one’s spouse is that one is more readily given to voicing one’s discomforts aloud. When in a group, I am slightly less inclined to burden my friends – but husbands, on the other hand, are fair game. Alan soon pulled into the shore and I followed, managing to scrape my kayak along some barnacles in the process. He insisted that I put something warm on – something being his fleece as I noted that I’d left mine in the car. Suddenly, the air became frostier. (Note to self: time for a spare clothing drybag audit).

Rhubodach ferry

Rhubodach ferry

It was the first time that we had paddled all the way to Colintraive from South Cowal, powered on by the promise of the wind and tide at our backs on our return. We had lunch beside the Rhubodach ferry jetty before being pushed back to Toward with the sun in our faces.

The sudden onset of cooler temperatures brought home the fact that we are now running out of time for anything but minimal wet practice, outdoors at least. I duly swapped my baseball cap for a neoprene hood and plopped into the water for a spot of rolling. Whenever I am about to declare stupendous, bombproof, super-robust rolling success to the world, the Universe comes knocking at my door with a little calling card that says, “Catch yerself on”. Last week, I introduced a new and unexpected quirk to my ever-growing list of new and unexpected quirks. As I tumbled upside down and initiated my sweep, I became aware that the blade wasn’t “catching”, resulting in a truncated roll which gets me up, but not as easily as I’ve known. I could not determine the cause of this until I figured out from video evidence that I am initially sweeping the air (which was also a recently diagnosed problem with Alan’s offside roll). It’s funny how, underwater, my brain couldn’t work this out – but then again, it has difficulty working anything out beyond not breathing.

Rolling on Loch Eck

Practice on Loch Eck

Anyway, this week I was completely focused on fixing the problem and, in the process, managed to forget the One Thing that has changed my roll from being hit and miss to being something I can depend on. This is my most important rolling discovery since … well, the last one. The trick is to flick my leading wrist back emphatically. It works beautifully in achieving perfect blade angle every time. But this week, my underwater brain succumbed to the law of Sudden Oxygen Deficiency (SOD) and decided to dispense with the One Thing altogether. So my first couple of rolls were laboured, to say the least. Fortunately, Alan’s brain was still working and he could plainly see the climbing blade angle that was the source of the trouble. As much as I would like to, I dare not yet make a declaration of bombproofness, as all too often I have proved that pride comes before a fail.

Alan with empty Loch Striven in background

Alan with empty Loch Striven in background

As we paddled past the sailing club once again, we were surprised to note that the crane had gone and that, barring a few whose owners had presumably slept in, all the yachts were now out of the water and were getting herded into their winter pen. That was fast work!

Back at our launch spot, we threw the kayaks on to the car roof and were home within 10 minutes. As we tucked our kayaks in for the night, it was with the reassurance that they would soon be back out on the water. Even if we don’t go far, it’s always good to go kayaking no matter what the season.

Goals
There are no goals
There is no order
Paid for in laughter

Home
Is this my home
Been starting over
Bathe in the water

Home, Engineers

Going with the flow

At the Ballachulish NarrowsIt hardly seemed like a week had passed since we had journeyed towards a rendezvous at the Falls of Lora on Sunday morning. Here we were retracing our steps northwards, the somewhat variable weather forecast requiring an “on the spot” decision as to our ultimate destination. At the Falls, the group agreed that plans for the Cuan Sound should be momentarily shelved  in view of the somewhat formidable westerly winds predicted along with the spring tides. The Ballachulish area seemed like the most viable option as it would present tidal activity and a bit of weather, but hopefully not too much.

We put in at Ballachulish Bridge, just in time for some play in the narrows which, while we were there, saw the tide ebbing at the spring rate of 5 knots. This was just about right for practising manoeuvres and becoming accustomed to the movement of the water.  In the realms of quite speedy tidal flow, tricks are played on the brain and it’s not until one directs one’s gaze shorewards that one realises – helpmaboab, I’m fairly chugging along here!  Fortunately, the manageable rate on this occasion allowed me to cast aside my imagined worst case scenario (being trapped in a flow headed direct to Canada) and try out some ferry gliding, breaking in and out and general scooting about.

In the tide race

In the tide race

Another group meeting was then called to decide where we would head next. There was a lot of enthusiastic pointing at some gnarly waves in the distance and, after a brief lecture from Lewis about what to do in the event of any of us falling in and requiring help (proceed calmly to the nearest Lewis, basically), we duly allowed the flow to push us westwards.

As we approached said waves, their presentation appeared quite surreal. We could see the sea state instantly transform from flat to roiling, to the extent that it felt like we were sitting on the shore. I decided that I wasn’t 100% ready to meet the lumpy stuff and, when I did so, it would be on my own terms, in a civilised fashion and with polite introductions. It would also be immediately after I’d identified an escape route. So, departing from reality for a few seconds, I started paddling backwards in order to buy some time. Of course, this was a quite useless endeavour as, akin to being on a conveyor belt, I was soon pitched into the thick of it.

Up and down

Up and down

It must be said that, when the words “tidal flow” are mentioned, my brain unplumbs itself from its reservoir of Known Knowns and floats into the vacuum of Unknown Unknowns. Tides are mysterious and mythical phenomena, affected by the wind, the land and the seabed, controlled by the moon, the sun, gravity, river gods and pixies. It’s all fodder for the active imagination. As it turned out, however, the conditions were no worse than previous rough water encounters and, once bobbing about in the fray, things seemed a lot more “normal”.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

We played in the waves for a bit, before continuing westwards into the wind, pulling in for lunch just before rounding the corner at Rubha Cuil-cheanna. We then continued north to another set of narrows – the Corran Narrows. The waves became bigger and a bit more “swelly” at this point. As we stopped to listen to Lewis’s explanations of the sea state (summary: the outgoing ebb was meeting shallows and incoming wind), I admit that lunch wasn’t sitting terribly well. We were, however, soon moving on downwind, disappearing into the big troughs before being elevated and pushed forward up the crests (the bit I’m still getting used to). One of my paddling companions asked if I was enjoying myself, to which I replied in the affirmative. I expressed some frustration at my lack of bravery in that I didn’t feel up to attempting to surf the bigger waves, to which he replied, “But you have a roll, right?”.  I confirmed that, well yes, technically I did. Fortunately he did not hear me then mutter, “What’s that got to do with anything?”!

Corran Lighthouse

Corran Lighthouse

As we neared the narrows, the sea calmed down and, to be honest, it was a tad disappointing after the preceding thrills. We had to make do with the picturesque scene of the lighthouse and the ferry. Oh, and did I mention the magnificent Glencoe mountains?

We about-turned and battled south-west against the wind before turning east back towards Ballachulish. Just when I’d thought that the day’s excitement was over, there was more vigorous pointing at more frothy waves and – like moths to a flame – we were soon bouncing around in the turbulence again. It was a great way to end the day.

Decent conditions

Decent conditions

Just as we exited the water, the heavens opened and we were rained on fairly torrentially for a large part of the way home. It is said that the rain is God’s way of washing the coos, and I think that that must include the kayaks who, after a great day on the water, were surely as happy as the occupants of the car transporting them homewards.

A big thank you to Lewis who, once again, allowed us to go out and play in the lumpy stuff.

The kayak chronicles

It has come to my attention that, at an average of 2 excursions on the water per week, my backlog of potential blog posts is growing at an alarming rate. The only way to fully catch up would be to stop paddling for a bit and do nothing but blog, but that is rather a Catch 22 situation and asking too much. As a compromise, I’ll share with you the highlights of the past month or so:

  • MV Captayannis wreck, River Clyde

    A visit to the “sugar boat” (the MV Captayannis) in the Clyde off Helensburgh. I recall the night it was wrecked, and it was all the talk of my primary school the next day. The ship itself dates back to the 1940s (it was wrecked somewhat later, I hasten to add) and is now the home (or at least perch) of sea birds and other marine critters, for whom it provides a “fragrant” environment. Being able to view an historic and personally meaningful shipwreck above water is quite a unique opportunity and beats having to don a diving suit!

  • PS Waverly and kayakers in Kyles of Bute

    PS Waverley and kayakers in Kyles of Bute

    A pleasant paddle in the Kyles of Bute culminating in our attendance at the Colintraive Fete immediately upon our emergence off the water. As we trailed our soggy presence through the crowds and stalls, many strange looks were cast our way. Apparently, wetsuits and cags are not de rigueur at a country fete. It was a relief to stumble upon a friendly and welcoming face – that of Andy, the chief burger flipper who, when he is not flipping venison burgers, is a fellow paddler.

  • Clyde Swim 2010

    Clyde Swim 2010

    A return journey across the Clyde in order to accompany swimmers participating in the cross-Clyde charity swim which was being supported, as per tradition, by the RWSABC. Each swimmer was appointed a kayaker to guide them across the river, and it was up to the kayaker to assess the best (and fastest) “line”. This introduced a slightly more competitive element to the kayaking proceedings than I had anticipated and the responsibility weighed heavily upon me, for a few seconds at least. I soon realised that the presence of slack water and the allocation of a fast swimmer reduced any need for strategic tidal planning on my part and my role reverted comfortably to that of security blanket, so to speak. Hats off to the swimmers that day for their sterling efforts which were quite inspiring (must get back to the pool and work on swimming fitness!).

  • Rolling practice is of course ongoing, mostly occurring along the shores of the Clyde or in Loch Eck. My on-side has been tested in a variety of kayaks now and is still “on” (hooray), while my offside has progressed from DOA to sporadically AWOL, with occasional bouts of FUBAR.

  • Surfing waves on Loch Fyne

    Surfing waves on Loch Fyne

    A windy weekend spent surfing (and a bit of slogging) on Loch Fyne, interspersed with refuelling stops in civilised tea/lunch establishments at Castle Lachlan and Inveraray. These outings were marked with some poignancy, being that Julia was about to go under the knife that Monday to have her knee ligaments reorganised. At least she managed to squeeze the very last droplet of saltwater out of the weekend.

  • Loch Caolisport, Knapdale, Argyll

    Loch Caolisport, Knapdale, Argyll

    A quiet and peaceful outing to Loch Caolisport. Whenever I mention this loch to anyone, I am greeted with a quizzical look – which might explain why we had the place entirely to ourselves (apart from one prawn fishing boat, some seals and seabirds). With beautiful views of Jura and Islay and a lovely lunch beach, it has a lot to offer. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that.

  • Paddling on Loch Linnhe

    Paddling on Loch Linnhe

    A day spent paddling around the north end of Lismore. This brought to mind our first ever kayaking trip of any significance, which took place at that location. It’s pleasing to reflect on how those first tentative paddlestrokes have led to something that’s now approaching a way of life. This is a scenically awesome area, and under 2 hours’ drive away from where we live. The wind reached F5 on our return journey to the Benderloch vicinity, resulting in quite an effort. “Rotation” was the order of the day, as I worked to engage my very toe muscles in assisting my rapidly tiring arms and shoulders in the battle against the wind. It was, however, definitely worth it.

As always, the many kayaking opportunities presented to us have been thanks to the availability of an ever-expanding array of amiable paddling companions whose company we have much appreciated. Not least of these of course is Julia who is now off the water momentarily whilst mending from her knee surgery.  Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see her return – better, stronger, faster than she was before! We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Paddling on Loch Linnhe

North of Lismore

So take the photographs
And still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf
In good health and good time …

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right.
I hope we have the time of our lives.

Time of Your Life, Nimrod, Green Day

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.

Familiarity breeds content

Paddling against the windWhile the rest of the northern hemisphere basks in summer sunshine, we have been soaking up all the rain, wind and cool temperatures that only Scotland can provide in July. Theoretically this might sound like a miserable prospect, but as the wise and ancient adage goes – when life hands you lemons, add some salt and tequila! And the same applies for the weather. We could choose to spend the rainy, windy days indoors playing dominoes, or we could go out and paddle anyway. And so we have been squirting those lemons right back in life’s eye. Who wants sunshine and balmy conditions anyway?

I know what you’re thinking: who is this and what have you done with Pam? The fact is that lately I have, through a process of gradual coercion immersion (the type that hasn’t involved too much capsizing, fortunately), become increasingly familiar with conditions that lie in the F4/5 slot on the Beaufort Scale.

After our exciting day out off Cumbrae, we went along to practice night at the RWSABC when the wind was making a direct hit on the bay and veritable breakers were rolling ashore. A few deep breaths and out I went into the fray. It wasn’t long before (what felt like) a rather large wave caught my stern and powered me forwards with such speed that I thought that it might see me hurtled into the club bar to get in an early round of ginger beers. A little shaken, I landed and collected my nerves before heading back out, by which time the waves had subsided a tiny bit.

A lovely summer's day out on the PS Waverley

A lovely summer's day out on the PS Waverley (I'd rather be paddling!)

Last Saturday was yet another grey and windy day, so we decided that it wasn’t worth venturing too far away. Launching at Lazaretto Point, it had all the feel of one of our winter’s day paddles, and we headed east out of the Holy Loch. It took us about 10 minutes to reach Kilcreggan – well, I exaggerate, but with the F4-5 westerly wind behind us, we scooted along as if engine-powered, scarcely requiring a paddle stroke. As much as this was all very pleasurable, our enjoyment was tempered by the realisation that this could only mean one thing for the return journey.

Scooting along

Scooting along

We fortified ourselves at the cafe on the waterfront of Kilcreggan, another establishment that is kind to sodden paddlers and doesn’t mind saltwater puddles forming on the floor. Soon, we were back on the water experiencing the full-frontal force of the wind. There’s no denying it, this was quite a slog. I made a concerted effort not to gauge my progress against any landmarks as I knew this would only result in depression. On the bright side, it proved an excellent opportunity to work on maximum forward stroke efficiency, focusing on rotation and paddle grip in particular. I explored the fine line between lessening my grip on the paddle so as to prevent raging tendinitis, and having the paddle whipped from my hands. The gusts were sufficient to bring us to a halt on occasion and we contemplated a shore stop at Cove before deciding to plough ahead regardless. There were some moments of respite, but the gusts experienced upon reaching the Holy Loch were some of the most fearsome of the day.

Rescue "practice"

Rescue "practice"

A few feet from the shore, my wind-ravaged senses became aware of some wobbling going on to my left. Almost in slow motion, I observed Alan inelegantly capsizing in what looked like a most unintended way. As Alan floundered about in the water, my finely honed rescue skills immediately kicked in, but I discarded them in favour of a fit of the giggles. The official story regarding this embarrassing debacle (avidly watched/photographed by our fellow paddlers and various pedestrians on the shore-side) was that Alan was paddling Julia’s Pintail and, due to a lack of practice at emerging from that particular kayak, he managed to tip himself over whilst doing some sort of yoga pose in the cockpit. Actually, he tells me that he was in fact trying to disengage his foot from the kayak in preparation for landing. What resulted was a fiasco hybrid between a self-rescue and an assisted rescue. I will share some key learnings:

  • The rescuer should not giggle at the rescuee. It is considered bad form.
  • The rescuee should not shout at the rescuer.
  • The rescuee should follow the rescuer’s instructions, even if the rescuer is his wife.
  • The rescuer should refrain from saying “I told you so” afterwards, no matter how tempting.

One thing for sure is that paddling into F4/5 wind provides an excellent workout, although I confess to moving a bit like a turtle the next day, until I’d done some yoga at least.

Happy place, despite the weather

Happy place, despite the weather

Aside from the practical benefits to be gained from increased familiarity with rougher conditions, there are some considerable psychological ones too. With more windy weather under my belt, I am no longer hitting “Refresh” on the Met Office website weekend forecast on a Wednesday. Gone is the nervous anxiety created by predicted gusts that only a few weeks ago would have seen me bailing out of a trip. And all told, it serves to increase the number of available paddling opportunities, which can’t ever be a bad thing. Living in Scotland, it’s not as if we can hold off and wait for summer to arrive.

Failure is the path of least persistence

Avocet at poolHaving learned that sea kayaks are allowed in the Riverside Leisure Centre pool (as long as they’ve been thoroughly washed), we decided to bring one along to practice some “real” rolling at the Club session on Friday night.  Of course, I was keen to take my Rockpool Isel, but this was not conducive to letting other folks have a shot, being that the Isel’s footplate takes a bit more work to adjust than foot pegs. And so, we took along Alan’s Valley Avocet. This choice caused me a little trepidation as my history of rolling the Avocet has not exactly been one filled with glowing accomplishment. I have had the odd moment of success, but it’s been exactly that – odd. And, of course, after the arrival of my Isel, I was in no rush to go back and engage in further self-torture. I managed, however, to delude myself into thinking that I had been making decent progress in improving my skills in the pool boats, so perhaps rolling the Avocet would be a scoosh now. Or perhaps not …

The moment of truth arrived. Alan jumped in and rolled in his usual style, with grace and poise. Next up, it was my turn. After a particularly ugly roll, I then went for a little swim. This was followed by a couple more laboured efforts and some more swimming. Sigh …

Meantime, various other members of the Cowal Kayak Club (mostly river paddlers) jumped in for a go, and each one of them rolled the Avocet with ease.  By the end of the evening, it was as if my ego had imbibed a shrinking potion and  promptly jumped down the rabbit hole into a distorted wonderland of neurosis and despair. Through the haze of blind rage chlorine, I heard a coach’s voice advise something about giving it more “oomph”, fixing my hand position … oooh and look at how good Terry’s (first ever) roll in a sea kayak is … it’s so good, he doesn’t even know how good it is … yada yada yada (I hate Terry …*).

We did of course bring along a camera and I have now reviewed the video evidence.

Readers who are bored senseless at this stage can skip.

For the remaining 2 of you, I give you Exhibits A and B (and C and D):

Alan at set-up

Alan at set-up, note that kayak has started to rotate already

Pam at set-up

Pam at set-up, note that kayak is not rotating at all

Alan rolling up

Paddle at 90 degrees, and Alan's well on his way

Pam not rolling

Paddle at 90 degrees and kayak only just starting to rotate

So, what’s up with that? Yes, yes, I know what you’re all thinking – HIP FLICK! But I swear I can’t get it going any sooner in the Avocet.  Is this a connectivity issue (with thanks to Julia for supplying that technical term), or am I just rubbish?  My most successful roll was the one that involved an absence of noseclip which resulted in a degree of urgency, or “oomph”. I am now inclined to learn a C-to-C roll for those kayaks with which I have difficulty, being that the first half of my sweep isn’t achieving anything anyway.

Fast forward to Saturday and I awoke to a disinclination to go anywhere near a kayak. The prospect of sulking at home all day, however, was even less appealing, and so we trundled along to meet up with our friends and then made our way to Strachur.

Hebridean Princess

Hebridean Princess

It was a pleasure not to be warding off frostbite as we got our gear ready for going on the water, and we were soon heading south towards Strathlachlan, with some slight wind coming from the northwest. There were few other vessels on Loch Fyne, and we were passed by the Hebridean Princess (HM The Queen was not on board). Alan took a photo of her (the ship) with me in the foreground and said he was going to label it “Hebridean Princess and cruise ship”.  I simpered obligingly.

Castle Lachlan

Castle Lachlan

We stopped for lunch at the Inver Cottage Restaurant, whose welcoming fireside is always appreciated.

Upon departure, I took the opportunity to surreptitiously dip my hands in the loch to test the temperature. It wasn’t exactly bath-like, but I speculated that I could perhaps handle a little dunking as long as I kept my drysuit on. In other words, I needed to regain my rolling mojo. I read a book recently that dealt with how the brain attaches to negative associations, being that primitive peoples had to place great focus on matters such as not being killed or starving to death, versus the more positive matters of finding a mate, or a flat-screen telly.  And so we are hard-wired to attach to negativity. The book recommended that, when something negative occurs, you should immediately replace it in your mind with something positive and, in so doing, you can effectively rewire your brain.  My intention, therefore, was to replace the painful associations of the previous evening, with the memory of a perfect, effortless roll in my Isel.

Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne

It didn’t work out exactly as planned. No sooner had I capsized than I became aware of a complete inability to surface. Convinced that I’d been snagged by the Loch Fyne Monster (or at least an especially vicious piece of kelp), I went for yet another frantic swim. On my next attempt, Alan pinpointed the problem. My drysuit was full of air and I was resembling the Michelin Woman upon immersion. Lesson No. 1: always make sure to fully purge your drysuit. Alan helped me deflate by hugging me (which Julia mistook for a romantic gesture – as if!).  Finally, I nailed the roll and it felt exactly as it should – effortless. I love my Isel.

I cheered heartily, however, not as heartily as Alan did. I’m sure I heard some utterances about finally getting some peace. Well, I can take a hint.

Now, I wonder if I should take my Isel into the pool next week …

* With apologies to Terry, it was the chlorine talking