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

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

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.

Moving goalposts (and pushing envelopes)

Fairlie to Cumbrae and backThe summer days of July have well and truly arrived here on the west coast of Scotland. How do I know?

  • The calendar says so.
  • The schools are all on holiday.
  • It’s blowing a gale and raining torrentially.
  • The garden now looks like a bombing range.

Yes, gone is the tranquility of balmy May and June and now we have some proper Scottish summer weather.  Never mind, we have used this as an opportunity to switch focus from journeying, to expanding our skills and experience in less-than-tranquil conditions.

Alan is happy

Alan is happy

On that note, I’ve seen a change in Alan recently. Gone is the mild-mannered, fair-weather paddler I loved and in his place is this other chap, whose eyes light up at the sight of white caps, whose shoulders slump at the prospect of calm seas, who laughs (I’d say a little demonically) at wind and waves. All of which places yours truly in an awkward position.

Anyone who knows me as a kayaker will not immediately leap to associations of high-risk, adrenaline-soaked feats of paddling derring-do at the mention of my name. Rather, they might think of a nice, sensible day out in nice, sensible conditions with perhaps some seal-spotting and a bit of lunch thrown in. Regardless, and no matter how much I drag my heels along the sand, somehow I find myself bobbing about on lumpy seas more than my nice, sensible self thinks desirable. Alan’s latest proclivity is therefore not helping.

On our way to Cumbrae

On our way to Cumbrae

The word came from Julia that a group was going out on Saturday and we were invited to join in. I’d seen the forecast of background winds of nearly 20 mph and gusts of over 30 mph. In addition, Julia used certain phraseology that caught my attention, such as: “looking for waves”, and something (that I think was intended as reassurance) about folks being available to “pick up the pieces if things go pear-shaped”. I duly convinced myself that this was not for me. No thank you. I would be perfectly happy staying at home sobbing at my complete lack of gumption catching up on housework. I’d even changed into non-paddling attire, when Alan informed me that wild horses wouldn’t stop him he’d quite like to go. He then advised that, for reasons of kayak-loading group logistics, he couldn’t double up with Julia and he’d therefore be in the car on his own … with an empty cradle beside his kayak …

My hat out kayaking

My hat out kayaking

So there I was heading down to Fairlie, trying my best to drown out all the little alarm bells sounding inside my head. I was reminded of my yoga practice, where certain postures are made so much more difficult by mental (and physical) resistance and I tried not to become my own worst enemy. Once on the water, we aimed for Great Cumbrae. It was a bit of a slog and I rued my inaction about pursuing a repair to my skeg. For some time, it’s been a bit sticky, to say the least. Once it’s down, it’s all the way down and no further adjustment (including retraction) is possible. I therefore prefer to leave it up. Lewis kindly reminded me to edge and this immediately assisted matters.

Nearing Millport

Nearing Millport

Upon reaching Cumbrae, we proceeded towards Millport. With southwesterly winds blowing, the south end of Great Cumbrae is associated with a certain quality of wildness, something I’d been anticipating since our destination was made known. Upon reaching that locale, Alan’s eyes duly lit up while mine didn’t so much light up as fill up. Well, not exactly … but the waves did take on a slightly more formidable quality and I found myself once again seated in the departure lounge of my comfort zone. Maria prompted me to remember that, as much as there is a certain awe and beauty in the waves, it’s actually better to paddle vigorously through them as opposed to stopping to admire them.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

Inside my head

Lewis also helped me with various pointers and assurances, including an exercise in paddling with one’s eyes closed to gain an appreciation of the fact that the waves are merely moving up and down. This certainly helped me swap out the images inside my head with something more akin to, you know, reality. It is very much a head game, where the senses undergo a bit of an onslaught and the mind takes off and runs with it.

Millport

A nice spot for lunch

Observed by a lone grey seal, we stopped for lunch at one of the little islands in front of Millport just in time for the sun to come out. Thereafter, it was back into the rough and tumble for a play. The word “play” does suggest fun and enjoyment, doesn’t it? I could see that that was the experience of my “playmates” and I envied their confidence. I found heading into the wind quite do-able and would probably have ended up on the shores of Little Cumbrae had it not been agreed that we were not to do that. I am not super-keen on paddling downwind in such conditions. I like to know what’s behind me and my imagination runs riot as soon as I feel my stern lift. I then become caught in a battle between learning the skills to best handle the surf and stay upright, and not becoming distracted from staying the heck upright. Out on the waves, rational thought becomes optional. But, like everything else, it’s a question of getting used to it. Meanwhile, Alan’s grin was getting wider.

I get by with a little help ...

I get by with a little help ...

We re-grouped to head back to Fairlie. This meant negotiating the bigger waves again side on and I very much appreciated the company of Lewis as we rounded the bend to the east side of Great Cumbrae.

Alan had already practised his roll successfully out off Millport, but I saved mine for the end. I’ve had a little trouble on practice nights lately and have only now determined that it relates to using my spare (Lendal) paddle. My roll is feeling great with my Werner paddle, but not so great with the Lendal. Another little piece of the blade angle puzzle to figure out. On this day, I was using the Werner, so all was well and there were no tears before bedtime.

Heading back

Heading back

During the return journey, I noticed that, already, the goalposts had moved, the envelope had been pushed (and sealed and mailed off) and that what I would have thought of as a bit choppy when we started out, was now a welcome patch of (relative) calm. This is why opportunities such as these are so good for anyone who wants to become a more self-confident paddler. I read a commentary recently about how a fear of dying can become a fear of living. Likewise, in the world of sea kayaking, a fear of conditions can, if one is not careful, become a fear of learning.

Seeing as I wrote this on July 4th, I don’t mind declaring my interdependence on, and appreciation of, a group of friends who happen to be rather good at paddling. It has made all the difference to Alan and me to be able to push ourselves and, judging by that grin that’s still on Alan’s face, I have a feeling those goalposts aren’t going to stay put for long.

And I, I don’t want no money from you
I don’t want promises that you’ll be true
You can do anything you wanna do
All I ask is that you … you push me to my breaking point …

The Breaking Point, Shooter Jennings and Hierophant, Black Ribbons

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

Say no to dirty coal at Hunterston

Some background info, courtesy of the RSPB:

“Developers are planning to build a huge coal-fired power station at Hunterston in North Ayrshire. If built, this would have a devastating impact on one of the best areas for wildlife on the Firth of Clyde and destroy a huge part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Inter-tidal habitats like this are vital for wading birds, such as redshank, and curlew. They also act as ‘service stations’ for thousands of ducks, which use them to top up on energy during their long migrations.

Coal power stations like this are the dinosaurs of the energy industry, because they pump massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The developer will have to fit technology to help capture and store these carbon emissions. But these technologies aren’t yet commercially or technically proven at this scale, and crucially, would only be required to deal with a small proportion of Hunterston’s emissions. Millions more tonnes of CO2 would be released – so much for Scotland’s ambitious targets to stop climate chaos.”

And think of all the lovely pollution!

If you object and would like your voice to be heard, click here to fill out and submit the RSPB’s prepared template.

Fake plastic seas

Julia and Pam off InnellanAs much as I’d like to post about numerous exciting paddling trips since I last blogged, I’m afraid such trips have been a little thin on the, er, water due to my succumbing to a cold bug which I have now generously passed on to Alan. I did manage to go out on a pioneering all-girl paddle with Julia last weekend, which consisted of a pleasant (albeit chilly) outing  in local waters. The promising conditions of the previous week had been replaced by something much more akin to November weather, where icy winds and rain prevailed. Nonetheless, we bravely soldiered through the elements (and the volcanic ash), Julia with her gammy knee and me with my sniffles. Alan was still off the water due to his injuries, but helped us with the kayaks at either end. Together, we are a team!

Julia off KirnJust when I’d thought that the little lightweight cold that I’d had nearly 2 weeks ago was history, it took some anabolic steroids and came back with a purpose. And so I have spent this week hacking and snuffling. Not only that, with the warnings of my MS nurse ringing faintly in my ears, I realised that my eye had gone a bit “wonky” again. Consulting with Dr Google, I have confirmed that the common cold can aggravate MS symptoms. I have certainly learned something. Hopefully, it will all go away soon.

Not being out on the water has left me with too much time on my hands to surf the Internet and come across the following stories. If you are in any way attached to the concept of saving the planet for future generations, then I warn you – they make difficult viewing:

I’m not going to lie to you – this depresses the bejesus out of me.

Why is  humanity the only species that is so intent on trashing its own nest? Not only that, we’re taking everyone else – all our fellow earthlings – down with us.

It’s all so overwhelming at times, it feels like our pathetic little gestures to help the environment are pointless. But are they? As I view the videos above, I’m tempted to conclude that picking up the odd plastic bag out of the sea is meaningless. If, however, by doing so I saved one animal’s life, it is definitely worth it. If it simply stopped garbage from washing up on a pristine Hebridean beach, it’s worth it. So, I will keep on plucking the plastic bags and bottles out of the sea when I come across them, I’ll refuse plastic bags at source (the supermarket), as well as the ubiquitous, all-pervading plastic bottles.  And, who knows – going out on a limb here – maybe if enough of us keep doing this, we could turn the plastic tide.

I’ve blogged before about the rubbish in our seas, and the situation will only get worse. Unless of course our ability to produce these insanely vast quantities of plastic junk is somehow limited. In the recent past, both the US Department of Energy (see p.8) and the US Joint Forces Command (and Richard Branson!) have warned that we are about to enter into an era of ever-diminishing availability of cheap oil. With plane-free skies courtesy of the (unpronounceable) Icelandic volcano, we were perhaps given a slight foretaste of the future in recent days. As much as our lack of planning for this inevitability will make it in many ways painful for humanity, Mother Earth may well breathe a small sigh of relief.

“And it wears me out, it wears me out.”
Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, Radiohead

The Slightly Imperfect Paddling Club

Julia, back on the waterWe’ve been a bit out of our paddling routine lately, what with Easter visitors and some poor weather to boot.  We were, however, back at the pool on Friday for the last session of the year, and then out on the sea on Saturday which coincided with the arrival of summer. Warmth and sunshine abounded and seemed like such a luxury after the harsh winter that we endured. I popped along to Loch Eck yesterday to try out some new rolling technique, but I can honestly say that it had more to do with just getting out on a beautiful day than with fretting over blade angles and head positioning. (Note to self: no matter how sunny and warm a day it is, Loch Eck is still a barely defrosted icebox in April. It certainly sped my roll up.)

A significant and unfortunate development occurred since I last posted. In the course of a “warm-up” during a coaching assessment a couple of weeks back, our paddling pal, Julia, ruptured her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). I don’t know about warmed up, but I understand that things certainly got a little heated as she writhed about in extreme pain before heading for the hospital. And so, she now awaits some quite serious surgery (I’ve squirmed my way through the animation). This did not , however, stop her from going for a little paddle from the beach at Ardentinny at the weekend.

Naturally, Alan and I were keen to offer our help and support, making offers to carry her kayak, assist her in and out of it etc etc. This lasted all of half an hour before we basically left her to fend for herself. Well, not quite. To explain, Alan wasn’t having a good day. His recent sternum injury had reawakened and he was becoming increasingly nervous about setting it back again. And so he decided to bail out of the paddle shortly after setting out. Fortunately, the others in our group were of adequate strength and number to ensure that Julia wasn’t left floating about the Clyde helplessly.  On the plus side, I got some towing practice in.

It started out so well ...

It started out so well ...

As a result of recent events, and following on from my post on the subject, I’ve come to appreciate that almost everyone is dealing with their own personal challenges. In our little group on Saturday we had a torn ACL, a sternum injury and 2 gammy knees, one bad ankle and a neurological condition. And that’s just the stuff I know about! The Scottish paddling community is also acutely aware of the absence from the waters of a well known paddler who has  recently undergone radical knee surgery.

All of this serves to make me appreciate that getting out in a kayak is a privilege that is not to be taken lightly. I am less inclined to obsess over matters such as rolling (no, really) and more inclined to just enjoy being on the water.  To those of us with slight imperfections, the “ordinary” moments of kayaking – and indeed life – are without doubt something to be savoured and appreciated.

“”That’s why I always say, what is the mark of a good warrior if he has no scars? What battle did he fight? When you see someone all scarred up and still going on, you can say, “That’s a good warrior.”
The Wind is My Mother, Bear Heart (Muscogee Creek Indian medicine man)