New Year’s intentions

What better way to start the year than on the water, even if it is a little chilly out there? Recent weather would suggest that the much rumoured “switching off” of the Gulf Stream (which is supposed to keep our climate from going the way of Canada’s) has now occurred. We’ve had snow and ice on the ground for so long now, I can barely recall the colour of grass. OK, I exaggerate – but it has been a couple of weeks at least since our “big freeze” began and it’s going to take a bit of practice to re-learn how to walk without shuffling or clinging on to walls and such by the time the thaw does come.

No such worries on the water and New Year’s Day found a group of us shaking off 2009 with a refreshing paddle from the Holy Loch to Loch Long and back. Some eejit suggested that, in the tradition of the New Year’s Day “dook” (trans: swim), a New Year’s Day roll might be in order. Fortunately no-one heard me.

Palm River Tec Paddle Mitts

Palm River Tec Paddle Mitts

Santa was very good to well-behaved paddlers this year, and I donned my new Arctic gale-proof Palm River Tec pogies, eager to test them out. Northern Kayaker has already reviewed them here – and I concur with her opinion. They are a little tricky to get on, I’d say impossible without the use of teeth. I’m thinking about asking Palm what they recommend – surely it’s not the inelegant tugging and biting performance that I put on (people with dentures can forget it). Once in position, however, the pogies sure are toasty.


Alan - back on the water (for a little bit)

Alan - back on the water (and testing my pogies)

Suitably bolstered by this auspicious start to the paddling year, I was back out on the water a couple of days later, but this time a special treat was in store – the return of Alan! After hand surgery which was immediately preceded by a sternum injury, the latter being particularly debilitating, he has been out of commission since October. We didn’t go too far, not wishing to cause re-injury, but it was lovely to float about on the Clyde and do a bit of seal-spotting on a bright winter’s day. And it was especially lovely to see Alan back in a kayak. I have missed him.
Bustin' a moveI do like to set a few intentions at this time of year (or in the yoga nidra tradition, some sankalpas). I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my more minor resolutions (mostly addressing sugar intake and time spent on LOLcats). It would be easy to say my primary intention is to go paddling (well … it is!). But I will also mention my other “big ticket” item, which does tie in: I intend to live in the present tense. It is, after all, the only thing that exists – the past and the future reside only in our minds, and all we have is this very moment. Kayaking has a way of plonking you straight into the moment and making you literally sit up and pay attention. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why we get so much out of it, because it relieves us of all the other “junk” in our heads for a short while. And what a relief it is.

On that note, as we raise a glass to the New Year, indeed, the new decade, let’s also raise a glass to this very moment.

Makes much more sense to live in the present tense.
Present Tense
, No Code, Pearl Jam

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.