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

A winter’s paddle

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

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

Kayakers on Loch Fyne

Kayakers (and ducks) on Loch Fyne

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


Scottish sea kayaker in winter plumage

Scottish sea kayaker in winter plumage

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

Synchronise your paddles

Synchronise your paddles

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

Sunset at Castle Lachlan

Sunset at Castle Lachlan

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

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