Summertime, and the living is … busy

Paddling across the ClydeI think it might be a Scottish phenomenon but, when the weather improves, suddenly life gets very busy. What should be the lazy days of summer are filled with a mad compulsion to get out and make the most of the weather before it changes back to wind and rain (which, let’s face it, could happen any minute).  Indeed, it took me a few years of living in permanently sunny climes to resist this urge, to realise that it never rains in California and therefore there was no urgency to, say, complete all my outdoor activities in the space of 3 days.  Back in Scotland, however, we cannot take anything for granted, therefore, when a spell of good weather appears, one feels the need to cram in all gardening, kayaking, hiking, biking, house-painting, window-cleaning etc etc activities at once. Indoor activities, such as housework and working for a living, tend to get neglected. If you’re not careful, it can get stressful.

Of course, not getting out on the water during a spell of good weather, in particular an actual stable high pressure system is, I’m fairly certain, a criminal offence.  With this in mind, we have been hitting the sea on a regular basis by way of outings of varying locations, durations and companions.

Friendly porpoise

Friendly porpoise

Back and forth across the Clyde

A highly memorable trip was one undertaken by just Alan and myself. That statement is no reflection on our excellent paddling friends, but relates to the fact that it was our wedding anniversary and the conditions were, in all respects, perfect. We put in at the bottom of our street and headed across the Clyde to Inverkip. We were only a few minutes into our journey when we saw a couple of porpoises swimming nearby. I anticipated that, upon sensing our presence, they would hasten away as porpoises usually do. But these two were different, they proceeded to approach us, getting closer and closer until they were within a few feet of our kayaks. They were quite unperturbed and, I imagine, were probably intent on feeding on whatever delicacies abounded in that vicinity. I actually prefer, however, to imagine that they were saying “hello”. Anyway, it made my day.

Inverkip Power Station wildlife haven

Inverkip Power Station wildlife haven

Eventually, we parted company, bidding our porpoise friends farewell, and headed across the river. Towards the eastern coast, we came across the famous 78-foot yacht, Drum (formerly owned by Simon Le Bon and now Arnold Clark), looking very smart indeed. Upon reaching Inverkip power station, we rediscovered the little wildlife haven there, where we encountered eider ducks, nesting cormorants and starlings, shags, guillemots, masses of tiny moon jellyfish and more. We heard some clanking sounds and I understand that some dismantling work is now being conducted. It has been rumoured for some years now that the landmark chimney of the unused power station is to be taken down and that, indeed, the power station will be demolished to accommodate 800 new houses which will make the village of Inverkip a very busy place indeed. Of course, it remains to be seen.

Collecting rubbish ... could be here a while

Collecting rubbish ... could be here a while

Departing Inverkip, we made landfall on a quiet stretch of coast just ahead of Lunderston Bay where we had lunch. Being sensitive to such matters, we began to notice various bits of plastic on the beach. Alan then dug out rubbish bags and started his own one-man beach clean-up. After a short time, which involved delving into the undergrowth (mistake), it became clear that this could evolve into a task of mammoth proportions, requiring a small team of assistants and a bin lorry. Not having those on hand, he did what he could with some input from me. Every little helps.

Returning to Dunoon

Returning to Dunoon

We stopped briefly at the very busy Lunderston Bay in order to deposit the collected rubbish, before proceeding north to the Cloch Lighthouse which is always a photogenic stopping point. The sun had shone brightly all day and a bit of a breeze had got up as we paddled back across the Clyde to Dunoon. This made the conditions pleasantly interesting and we felt invigorated by the time we reached Dunoon for a tea-stop at the Yachtsman’s Cafe.  What better way to celebrate our anniversary!

Ailsa Craig must wait

After our recent sojourn on the South Ayrshire coast, the fire of ambition had been lit for a crossing to Ailsa Craig. And so it was planned that we should make an attempt during a continuing spell of settled weather. The day did not get off to a good start for me. Alan was away conducting a training course, and I had to undertake the arduous task of organising myself without a support crew (solo paddlers will have no sympathy, I know). I opened the curtains at 6 am that Sunday to find a small roe deer staring back at me having, I soon learned, consumed half of our garden already. OK, I exaggerate, but he had made significant inroads. Suffice to say, this summer’s roses and strawberries are now cancelled, but thankfully, the veggie plot remains intact. Who knows what apocalyptic scene would have greeted me if I’d got up at 7 am. In the process of chasing the deer, I lost a cat. (I spent the majority of the journey down to Ayrshire absorbed in frantic texting to Alan who co-ordinated communications with our neighbour and … well, to cut a long story short, the cat was behind the TV. Fortunately, I wasn’t driving).   I managed to turn my attention to paddling by the time we reached Lendalfoot.

Setting out for Ailsa Craig

Setting out for Ailsa Craig

A bit lumpy

A bit lumpy

At this point, we noted that it wasn’t quite the balmy, windless day that we’d hoped for. Nonetheless, we gamely set out for the unmissable lump of rock that dominated the scene.  I noted that conditions were not entirely calm and a small doubt crossed my mind – the all-too-familiar thought of, “Well, this is fine … but what if it gets worse?”. This was heightened by my awareness that 2 coaches in our number had taken up the rear and were having a bit of a conference. My spider senses anticipated a possible outcome and, indeed, Lewis called us to a meeting where he explained the realities of the conditions in which we found ourselves. Basically, the sea state suggested that there was more weather activity further south and local knowledge indicated that the wind would increase as the day went on, making the return crossing in particular a potential challenge. Being that the crossing is 2.5 hours long and fairly exposed, and not being in the mood for any epics, those words of wisdom were certainly good enough for me. Everyone else seemed to manage to hide their disappointment very well as we settled on a coastal paddle instead. As Dave said, Ailsa Craig isn’t going anywhere  – unless of course there’s a tectonic plate shift (hey – I’ve seen the putrid trash movie “2012”, you know).

Heading south

Heading south

We paddled northwards to Girvan and had lunch on the beach. Then, as we headed back south, the wind duly did get up and conditions became a bit more challenging, but in a very good way. Albeit that it was a long drive for a coastal paddle, it did provide us with some practice in bigger swell than one usually experiences further north on the Clyde. I always hugely appreciate the chance to broaden my abilities in the company of proficient potential rescuers good friends.

Alan adjusts my Isel

Alan adjusts my Rockpool Isel

A short hop to Bute

Alan was back on the scene last weekend, with the weather still holding, albeit a little breezy. We intended to go across to Bute on the Saturday, and even had the kayaks on the car roof, but the wind and a total lack of oomph on my part made us turn around. By Sunday, my energy levels had improved and, we thought, so had the wind. The crossing to Bute was very tranquil to the point of  – apart from the spectacular scenery – well, a tiny bit boring (did I just say that?). We paddled south along the Bute coast for a bit, then swapped kayaks and returned to Craigmore for a tea-stop. Alan had been coveting admiring my Isel and had requested a test drive. Even although its design is intended for a smaller person, he did manage to squeeze in and get a flavour of the delights of Isel ownership (of which I have raved extensively). Upon enjoying a cuppa in the tearoom, Alan, who was facing the window, noticed that the weather was changing in front of him. The flat calm had been replaced by a vigorous breeze. There was even some surf on the beach! Torn between waiting to see if it would settle, and making a run for it, we decided on the latter, just in case matters got worse. If we were going to do wind, I wanted my Isel back and Alan graciously obliged. We jumped into our kayaks, reversed into the surf and turned to face the elements.

Who ordered wind?

Who ordered wind?

The northwesterly breeze would be fairly described as a quartering wind and provided us with some decent waves to negotiate as we battered our way eastwards. We adopted a PLF (paddle like … fury) strategy, keeping close together and, before we knew it, we were in the shelter of the Toward shore. Being that Alan and I have not spent a lot of time in such conditions all on our own, our reaction was perhaps understandable – yes, high-fives and big grins all round! It felt like a small step forwards in our self-sufficient paddling evolution, and one that we really enjoyed.

And in between trips, we’ve been hopping over to the Royal West club in Greenock for practice evenings, the most recent one involving lots and lots of rescues: self-rescues, assisted rescues and rolls, including Alan’s first ever (and entirely unheralded) re-entry and roll.

So, to summarise, we’ve been busy spending the days paddling, and this is very much a good thing. With the news of the unending Gulf oil catastrophe which will affect us all one way or another (and which, especially as kayakers who love the sea, leads us to a place of deep despair), all we can do is turn our attention to what we have now, to moments filled with beauty and wind and saltwater and birds and porpoises.

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am ageing and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.”
Annie Dillard

Fools like us

Kayaking to ButeLast weekend, Alan and I were on our own, our usual paddling pals having better other things to do. We decided to go somewhere not too far away, largely due to the fact that I’d had a cold the previous week. The cold itself was quite mild, but all the sneezing involved had aggravated my shoulder/back injury of old, being as the original muscle and tissue damage  is situated right next to my left lung. I read somewhere recently about just how extreme an act sneezing is – all bodily functions stop apparently, including the heart. Anyway, it was nothing that a couple of ibuprofen pills couldn’t sort out and we were soon putting in at Toward.

The weather had continued its warming trend and felt quite balmy as we made our way across to Bute. Until the sun went in at least … and then it turned frosty again, encouraging us to make haste to the tea room at Craigmore. Conditions were remarkably calm and it was difficult not to be mesmerised by the blending of sky and sea as the latter reflected the former like the proverbial mirror. It was with some disappointment that we discovered that the tea room was closed for refurbishment. And so, we paddled on to Rothesay, dodging the ferry before finding sustenance at a shore-side tea-stop.

Behind you!

Behind you!

As we consumed our tea on the beach, we were approached by a person displaying interest in our kayaks. This often happens when out paddling, and many times we have heard from people expressing a desire to take up the activity. This individual, however, informed us that he was already the proud owner of a TideRace kayak and we soon established that he was a fully fledged member of the kayaking community, being a Bute Kayak Club member. And so followed an interesting chat on matters paddling. It’s always good to make new friends and, being that the world of kayaking is a small one, I am sure we will bump into one another again on the waters of Cowal and Bute (or beyond).

All the clouds

All the clouds were out

Alan and I then headed back to Toward, where we bumped into our kayaking neighbours and had yet another interesting chat about matters paddling. It’s heartening to see so many people enjoying getting out on the water, especially in such a low-impact way. However, not everyone would agree – which brings me to the controversial part of this post.

Recently, any paddler in the Dunoon and Cowal area has become accustomed to being greeted with the question, “That wasn’t you that got rescued off the West Bay the other day, was it?”.   To explain, there was a bit of an incident a couple of weeks ago. Not much information is known about the paddler, except that they were in a Canadian canoe and, word has it, that they were quite experienced. It’s remarkable that they withstood so much time in the water, and fortunate that they were spotted by a local worker who called the rescue services. This has prompted a letter from an anonymous person in the local paper this week, from which I quote:

“I write with anger as I note that a lone canoeist was rescued from the Clyde last week.

Has he been sent the bill for the rescue?

It was nobody’s fault but his own that he chose to go canoeing on  his own in February weather. Why should the tax-payer have to pay for this man’s folly?

When the search and rescue services are privatised … in 2011, do you think that people who choose to put themselves in danger will be rescued without receiving a hefty bill?”

The Anonymous Person goes on to say,

“Helicopters can only be in one place at a time and, while they are engaged in the rescue of an idiot, they cannot be available to rescue people who are in difficulty through no fault of their own.”

Oooh, not feelin’ the love here at all.

Various metaphors spring to mind, mostly involving cans and worms, hornets and nests and slippery slopes. I won’t get into the associated controversy of the privatisation of the search and rescue services (and the inherent utility fees that will be paid to the companies involved), that’s for another day perhaps. But I would like to raise a few points for Anonymous Person (AP) to consider:

  • Who will pass the moral judgement on whether someone’s actions can be classified as idiotic or accidental and, if the former, worthy of a “hefty bill”? Whose code of standards will prevail? The rescue services’? The private companies’? The Anonymous Person’s?
  • Who can afford to pay said “hefty bill”? And who will administer these bills and pursue their payment? Who will fund the administration? In keeping with the privatised model, maybe it would be easier if the rescue services just billed everyone? Should this be extended to other emergency services?  (I’m sure insurance companies would be all in favour of this potential new line of business).
  • What are the implications for calling in your own rescue if you know there’s a possibility that you will be presented with a “hefty bill”?
  • Dependent on whose standards are adopted, how would the rescue of a hugely respected, capable and experienced kayaker be assessed? Is he too an “idiot” who must be billed?
  • According to AP, the rescued person should not have gone out on their own in February weather.  So the discussion has not even proceeded on to how prepared they were in terms of equipment and clothing (which is unknown), the actual conditions of the day (which were not inclement) etc before they are dismissed as an “idiot”.  By this standard, no-one should “put themselves in danger” and go out in a canoe on their own in February. I suppose, therefore, one might conclude that it is safer to stay indoors watching television, say. Ah, but what if, in our little cocoon of safety, we lack exercise and eat a few too many cakes? What if we gain a little weight and become a bit short of breath? What if we have a heart attack?! It could hardly be said that it occurred through no fault of our own – so should the NHS present us with a “hefty bill” for resuscitating us?

You see where I’m going here.

Self-rescue practice

Self-rescue practice

Rather than advocate for invoicing rescuees, a better approach might be to strongly foster safety consciousness in all outdoor activities. This can occur via the funding of organisations that engage in and assist with such activities. It is hoped that AP would not have an issue with taxpayers’ money being used to bolster organisations such as the MCA and, indeed, the local Cowal Kayak Club, whose first AGM this week included plenty of reference to safety training.

There will always be “idiots” in all walks of life – and one person’s idiot might be another person’s hero. It is impossible not to put oneself in danger – life is dangerous. Anything could happen, any day. As my mother used to say, “There but for the grace of God go I”, and I certainly wouldn’t like to be the one playing God.

Deja vu all over again at Loch Striven

Friday night’s pool training took on a new and interesting twist last week. Alan and I had been busying ourselves with our usual rolling drills when I became aware of something resembling “shenanigans” going on at the deep end. I tried to ignore this and look busy, but was spotted by coach Richard who bullied invited me to participate. I then found myself in a kayak with a rope tied to each end, a bit like some sort of mediaeval torture device really. Richard and Euan then pulled the kayak up and down the pool, encouraging me to brace to prevent capsize. I have to admit, I was starting to enjoy it. Upon inevitably capsizing, I then had the opportunity to roll in the “moving” water. It definitely simulated the sensation of battling opposing forces under the water and I got a lot out of it. Alan’s turn was next and I think that there’s the tiniest of chances that Richard and Euan set the bar slightly higher for him (this could be a guy thing).

Duly trained up, we were keen to get out on the real water at the weekend. The forecast made Saturday a complete non-starter as, despite Richard and Euan’s best efforts, our training hadn’t quite extended to simulations of 65 mph gusts (maybe just 35 mph), so we pinned our hopes on getting out on Sunday when conditions were predicted to be calmer. And indeed they were, so off we popped for an afternoon jaunt.

Those great big ships again - and tiny kayak

Those great big ships again - and tiny kayak

More often than not we find ourselves putting in at Toward shoreline and seeing where the fancy takes us. More often than not, it takes us to Bute. And then maybe back over to Loch Striven. Being creatures of habit, that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely finished inspecting the Maersk ships anchored in the loch, especially as another one had been added to the “raft” since we were last there. I suppose I am slightly fascinated by ships. It must have something to do with growing up on the banks of the Clyde.

After a pleasant paddle over to Bute and then northwards up Loch Striven, we managed to get a little more up close and personal this time (with the ships, that is). There were no signs of life aboard the behemoth vessels as we paddled around them, although I believe they are still being “powered down”. It’s astonishing to think that there is no work for them (or hundreds of others like them around the world) for the foreseeable future. What were all those ships transporting previously that we are somehow managing to live without now?

Stars and Stripes on Loch Striven

Stars and Stripes on Loch Striven

We noted that one of them (the Sealand Performance) was registered in New York and was flying the Stars and Stripes, which seemed a little incongruous in wee, backwater Loch Striven. But I’m forgetting how recently nearby Holy Loch played host to those very colours.

Having satisfied ourselves that we’d seen enough, we were escorted off the premises by a friendly seal as we turned to head home. We noticed that the sea state was changing a little at this point. It was no longer calm, for a start. The tide was going out and meeting the incoming wind. There were no 65 mph gusts or anything, but it was definitely lively. Something very similar happened the last time we made this self same trip, so it was all getting a bit Groundhog Day-ish. By the time we reached the NATO refuelling depot, I declared to Alan that I wanted to head in for a short break. Alan appeared to be unfazed by the conditions, but I threw a small wobbly. I’m not sure why this is. I think I am naturally predisposed towards thinking the worst. Alan pointed out that the worst that could actually happen was:

  • I might capsize
  • My roll might fail
  • I’d simply be blown over to the nearby shore

Processed through the “Pam’s even worse, worst case scenario filter” however, this reads as:

  • I might capsize
  • I might become entangled in something (seaweed? fish farm paraphernalia? NATO pipelines?) and be unable to free myself
  • I might hit my head off a rock
  • My roll might indeed therefore fail
  • Conditions might deteriorate to gale force
  • That squall moving to the north of us might contain south-bound tornadoes*
  • I (and my kayak) might get smashed to little pieces along the shoreline

(*Before you ask, I have seen a tornado forming above a car park in Greenock).

Where does all of that come from? It does get tedious.

Sensing my discomfort, Alan swapped kayaks with me. He had been paddling his new Avocet, while I was in my Nordkapp LV. I must say that I’d rather liked this arrangement as it levelled the playing field in terms of our respective speeds. Alan, therefore, got a big dollop of his own medicine feel for paddling at a reduced pace. After the wind had made its presence known, however, I was inclined to jump into the Avocet to see how it compared. And yes, I did feel a little more “in control” in the smaller kayak. It was also interesting to note that, whilst the Nordkapp had tended to rear up and then slap down on the waves, the Avocet delivered several face-fulls of saltwater instead (no, I wasn’t crying!).

We chugged our way back, rounding the fish farm, where it became especially bouncy and confused. I summoned up my learnings from Lewis, Islay, Skye and the pool, all of which had involved considerably worse conditions (ok, except for the pool). In my mind, I can honestly say, I was mentally prepared to try rolling upon capsize, especially as most of the sea activity was on my “good” side. I no longer think that my only instinct would be to pull the deck’s grab loop, but it remains to be seen as, on this occasion, I (and Alan) did manage to stay upright.

I am leaning towards adopting another indispensable tip from coach Richard in the meantime, proven to help many a kayaker get through rough waters and also to engage their roll. So where can I order a smiley face sticker for my deck? 🙂

I want to be you – whenever I see you smilin’
Cause it’s easily one of the hardest things to do
Your worries and fears become your friends
And they end up smilin’ at you
Put on a smilin’ face

Smiley Faces, Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

The pleasure and the pain

Paddling along the east Bute coastline

Paddling along the east Bute coastline

It started out just like any other kayaking day trip – pleasant conditions beckoned (albeit a little windy in places) and we were eager to get out on the water before summer was once again cancelled. We jumped in our kayaks at Toward and headed over to Bute before proceeding southwards to Kilchattan Bay. That part was very enjoyable and we (along no doubt with the resident seals) kept a sharp eye out for the orca which, most excitingly, was recently reported to be sojourning in the Firth of Clyde.

We turned into Kilchattan Bay accompanied by a playful grey seal (who apparently hadn’t got the memo about the orca). We were then greeted by 2 fellow kayakers who were emerging from the shelter of the bay. They were paddling 2 very eye-catching kayaks – golden, starfish-covered, and very glam-Rockpools. They advised that they were spending a couple of days paddling around Bute, but had pulled in due to lumpy conditions. They were reassured to hear that conditions appeared to have calmed since we had ventured on to the water at least.

At Kilchattan Bay, Bute

At Kilchattan Bay, Bute

We contemplated crossing the Clyde over to Cumbrae at this point, however, the unrelenting procession of outbound warships dissuaded us. Fresh from their “Joint Warrior” NATO exercise, we feared that, still in war games mode, they might not be able to resist a bit of target practice if we couldn’t paddle out of the way quite fast enough. And so we simply reversed our route but then found ourselves, troublingly, doing a little battle with the outgoing tide combined with the easterly wind. Monitoring my progress against the “transit point” (of sorts) provided to starboard by the colossal Maersk Beaumont anchored off of Cumbrae, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t making much headway at all. Of course, this is a rather massive ship (recently joined by another huge Maersk ship also in layup – it’s a veritable parking lot out there), so perhaps not the best gauge for assessing advancement. Instead, I concentrated on the Bute shoreline to port but, sadly, that only served to confirm that it was indeed heavy going.

The next thing I noticed was a growing pain in my right elbow. Shortly thereafter, my left elbow came out in sympathy. My increasing focus on this latest discomfort was interrupted by a pleasant encounter with a flotilla of very smart TideRace kayaks which had set off from Castle Toward. Alan commented that he’d never seen so much bling on the Clyde in one day. The paddlers were in fact trainee instructors from the Castle Toward outdoor centre and were accompanied by Roddy, the eminent kayak coach from Bute (who we regularly bump into on our seaward travels these days) and Peter, who heads up the training centre. They too were on their way to circumnavigate Bute, which seems to be the thing to do. After a blether, we were back on our way and my attention was re-captured by my sore elbows.

It was then that Alan noticed that his skeg appeared to be non-functional and, with some dismay, he recalled experimenting with it before going ashore. This is rather atypical behaviour as Alan rarely uses his skeg. Unfortunately therefore, it had been in a downward position when he dragged his kayak on to the beach, thus causing the cable to kink and rendering it essentially knackered.

The aforementioned glitches served to compound the experience of paddling in increasing chop and it really did become quite challenging as we approached Craigmore. I mentally rehearsed my recently rediscovered self-rescue abilities, but felt these may well be impeded by the very real presence of quite boisterous waves. We soldiered on bravely in the hope that some shelter would be afforded by the upcoming approach to Rothesay Bay. My elbows were screeching out in protest just at the point when, thankfully, sea conditions did calm. We paddled against the wind back to Toward and I was very glad to make it home, this being the first trip where that goal had not been guaranteed.

But my troubles were not over because, as the evening progressed, my left elbow pain descended into much more acute wrist pain which lasted through to the end of the week. Even today, it is not completely healed. I am now left contemplating the cause. The suspects are: gripping the paddle too tightly – but I really did pay attention to this and I swear I wasn’t, or insufficient torso rotation – um, not sure. Could it even be the tightness of my wetsuit cuffs cutting off synovial fluid to the tendons? (And yes, I do have a PhD from Google University, in case you were wondering).

Still, as my mother (who, incidentally, used to holiday in Kilchattan Bay as a child) would have said, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. It says a fair bit that, despite the tribulations of my latest outing, I am still looking forward to getting back out there with the gannets, the goosanders, the seals, the orcas … and the bling.

But it’s Thursday …

Loch Striven

Out on Loch Striven ... on a Thursday

I recall a TV advert some years ago (in the US, I think) which featured a be-suited chap walking down a busy city street. He is stopped dead in his tracks by the sight of a SUV driving past, fully laden with adventure gear and evidently heading off to the great outdoors somewhere well beyond the city limits. As he stares in disbelief, he mumbles, “But it’s Tuesday”. I can relate to both parties in that advert – I have been that frustrated office worker, but more recently I have been that Tuesday skiver. Guess which one I like best!

So it was Thursday and the sun was shining. As much as I love my days spent in the office clicking a mouse and attending to the whims important and pressing needs of my customers, I decided to take advantage of the benefits of being self-employed and awarded myself a well-deserved day off. Alan did likewise, so we hit the high seas for a day of unremitting enjoyment in the wind and waves (and calm). We had a bit of everything to keep us entertained, a brisk breeze and some lumpiness upon setting out (which saw our Nordkapps friskily at play), followed by an ethereal flat calm by the end of the day.

Returning in the gloaming

Returning in the gloaming

After reaching Bute, we headed north towards the Kyles. We stopped for lunch at a nice little beach back over on the Cowal side and noted that the temperature would suggest that it wasn’t quite summer yet. As we were approaching Colintraive, Alan commented that his shoulder was beginning to hurt. Rolling practice has taken its toll, alas. I therefore resigned myself to a slightly shorter paddle than I’d been anticipating. We turned around and started heading homewards, but then Alan suggested we take a detour up Loch Striven, and very pleasant it was. Having gone some way up the loch, we worked our way back down towards Toward. After 26 km of paddling, I began to notice that I was feeling the tiniest bit exerted, and contemplated who, at this rate, would win the competition for the sorest shoulders. Alan appeared to have worked through his pain, but I was developing some new and interesting aches all of my very own. I consoled myself by focusing on the beautiful surroundings, the various seal sightings (5 total!), the birds, the peacefulness and the realisation that I was building some good conditioning for the months of paddling ahead.

Miscellaneous observations from our outing:

  • I still cannot imagine making an urgent surf landing after a full day’s paddling. As I peel my spray deck back, it takes some considerable time for me to re-engage the use of my legs. This, combined with the uneven surface of the shoreline, often reduces me to a state of near crawling on hands and knees, which is all very pathetic. Answers on a postcard please …
  • If I tweak the wrist seals of my drysuit throughout the day, it stops my hands from swelling. Good to know.
  • Sanitary products of a feminine nature do not miraculously evaporate when flushed down the toilet. If they don’t choke the sewage system, they are likely to end up floating in the sea, which is unpleasant for humans and wildlife alike. (Perhaps there is a need for an awareness campaign here).
  • To my mind, seals sound a lot like whales when they snort unexpectedly behind you.
  • Nordkapps handle chop with consummate ease.

And so on Friday, I returned refreshed and renewed to my desk … until such time as the contents of my inbox disgorged themselves on to my PC screen at least. I’m not sure if these sneaky days off truly serve the purpose of renewal, especially as I do have to make up the lost work time, or if they just leave one yearning for a lot more of the same.

“Some people say that mountain climbers are really wasting their time. They have nothing better to do so they climb mountains, tire themselves out, and come back with nothing to show for it. Yet a person who climbs a tall mountain sees the world and experiences nature in a very different way from someone who never leaves his own front door. Genuine mountain climbers do not struggle up great precipices for the glory of it. They know that glory is only a label given by others. A true climber climbs for the experience of climbing.” Ch’an Master Sheng-yen,