Getting warmer

Karitek Demo Day at FairlieAfter a weekend off from kayaking (other than the pool), it was back to normal last weekend as a group of us rendezvoused at Fairlie on Saturday. This was in order to coincide with the Karitek demo day being held there as we were all anxious to fondle the lovely range of Rockpool, P&H and UKSK kayaks on display. Of course, Alan and I are not in the market for another kayak, but it’s always nice to look at the latest offerings regardless. Hopefully the good people of Karitek didn’t notice mind one chap testing out Alan’s Nordkapp.  We bumped into quite a few “well kent” faces from the paddling world and it was only after Alan had launched my kayak without me in it that I took the hint, stopped chatting and  jumped in. Apart from anything else, I didn’t want it to be inadvertently taken out for a demo and returned to Karitek!

Approaching Wee Cumbrae

Approaching Wee Cumbrae

We headed over to Little (or Wee) Cumbrae and stopped there for lunch. The island is under new management in the form of the Patanjali Yog Peeth Trust. As a yoga student myself, I am of course pleased that the island will be used as a centre for yoga and the promotion of ayurvedic wellbeing and non-harming – a much more favourable prospect than the potential shooting and quad biking options that were advertised on the prior “for sale” listing (somewhat oxymoronically alongside birdwatching). I have it on good authority that the owners are welcoming to sea kayakers, merely requesting that visitors respect the island’s ethos, although disappointingly allegedly, it is not necessary to swear an oath of vegetarianism in order to land (but don’t quote me on that).

View from atop Wee Cumbrae Castle

View from atop Wee Cumbrae Castle

We consumed lunch beside the square Castle remains and did a bit of exploration both inside and outside. Sufficiently fortified (us, not the Castle), we were back in our kayaks to cross over to Millport on Great Cumbrae for further sustenance in the form of a hot beverage in the Ritz Cafe. Following that, we hopped back to Fairlie, passing Hunterston’s terminal where a bulk carrier all the way from China was now berthed. Landing back at the beach should have been an uneventful affair, had it not been for Alan’s back going into a spasm which found him writhing about on the ground emitting “man groans” (akin to “man flu” in terms of the immensity of suffering involved). Not only that, my efforts to assist my fellow paddlers went horribly awry when I tripped over a stone and promptly dropped my end of Henrik’s kayak.  Henrik was very gracious about it and I didn’t even see him applying the duct-tape before putting his kayak back on the car roof.

Heading to Millport

Heading to Millport

One thing had become apparent during our outing and that was the almost, but not quite, spring-like quality to the day. In fact, we almost, but not quite, entirely dispensed with our pogies, neck gaiters and hats. At least I thought about it. Any weekend  now, I reckon.

And speaking of getting warmer, we’ve been trundling along to the pool each Friday evening to diligently work on skills improvement. A week ago on Friday, I jumped in, capsized and had the mental equivalent of a computer’s “blue screen”. The rolling program in my mind did not start and all that was left in my head was a blinking cursor.

Action shot

Action shot

There was no-one more surprised than I was about this. But it was actually a good thing as it caused me to have a total “reboot” (I won’t say where). I took myself (and Alan) back up to the shallow end and got right back to basics, once again building up what I consider to be the 2 core elements: sweep and head position. A bit of video replay had revealed a virtual absence of both which I soon corrected and was back feeling more confident by the end of the evening. In retrospect, I’d known that something wasn’t quite right the week beforehand and that my rolls were pretty laboured, but I hadn’t been able to fix it. So sometimes it’s better to utterly fail in order to deconstruct then reconstruct. The key is not to self-destruct, and that initself is a skill.

“You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is – working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows.”
Ani Pema Chödrön

Never too much of a good thing

There is a Zen saying that, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I have come to realise a slightly adapted version of this, which is: “When the kayaker is ready, the paddling opportunities will come.” This has certainly been the way of things lately. When Alan and I started out, we didn’t know any other kayakers.  We then made friends down at Garnock and, now, we find similarly minded folks right on our very doorstep, providing no shortage of opportunity to get out on the water. It’s a truly wonderful thing.

Misty Holy Loch

Last weekend saw several of those folks stranded on the “wrong” side of the water. Those of us on the Cowal side had intended to meet our friends at Kilcreggan, however, a thick, pea-souper of a fog had descended upon Greenock. Not possessing any suicidal tendencies, our friends quite sensibly abandoned any plans to cross the Clyde shipping channel. Sadly, therefore, they missed out on the beautiful sunny window that had opened over the Cowal Peninsula. We gazed over at the fog-enshrouded gloom in disappointment, which was only assuaged by blue skies, sunshine and beautiful scenery as we made our way from the Holy Loch to Dunoon and a hot cuppa at the Yachtsman’s Cafe.

Heading for the Kyles

Paddling in the Kyles

This weekend saw everyone gathered on the “right” side of the water where more blue skies and sunshine, if not exactly balmy temperatures, beckoned us out for a paddle from Toward to the East Kyles of Bute. After a great deal of deliberation, Alan decided that this would be the day of his “official” return to the world of sea kayaking after a nearly 4 months’ absence due to injury (give or take a couple of short practice outings). It was really excellent to have him back. Also a little strange. I confess to having become a bit “precious” about organising my kit, and I did try not to show my irritation upon discovering bits of his kit appearing in “my” Ikea bag. On the other hand, it’s awfully nice to have someone help you tug your mukluks off (paddlers will understand) at the end of a day’s exertions.

Taxi for Alan

Taxi for Alan

The wind was coming from the NNW  at about 20 kph as we headed straight into it on the way up the Kyles. Fortunately, the sun was out sufficient to keep us from freezing, despite the 3°C temperature and, indeed, my hands became quite sweaty in my pogies. I watched Alan with some concern, hoping that he wasn’t at risk of undoing all the hard physio work he’d undertaken in order to heal, but he assured me that he was feeling fine.  It seemed like the wind was picking up a bit as we pulled into shore for a spot of lunch. Most conveniently, our lunch site sported a rope swing, the temptation of which was too great to resist. Several of us let loose with our inner child and were soon flying through the air in a state of reckless abandon.

Loch Striven meets the Kyles

Loch Striven meets the Kyles

Returning was a quite different experience, with the wind now behind us. We soon established that, at the rate we were being pushed along, we were acquiring 2-3 knots of wind and tidal assistance. It took me all my time not to pull out a newspaper and make a cup of tea as we coasted along. As the waters exiting the Kyles met up with their relations exiting Loch Striven, however, things became a little livelier and required a return of all hands on paddles as we negotiated a bit of F4 chop. The optimists within our party had anticipated that it might be possible to not have to skirt around the fish farm at the southern end of Loch Striven, however, such hopes were obliterated upon meeting up with the rather chunky cables and pipes inconsiderately placed between the shore and the fish cages.  And so we laboured through the chop all the way around the fish farm. Suddenly Alan was making excellent progress as, momentarily distracted from his injury, he had hit the “turbocharger” button on his kayak (a well-known bonus feature of the Nordkapp). I continued to enjoy and appreciate my Rockpool Isel, which took the turbulence in its stride.

A January roll

A January roll

Soon we were back in the calmer waters of Toward. As we approached our destination slipway, not happy with a successful day’s paddling, Alan decided to test out his roll. I am pleased to report that it was present and correct, thus motivating the rest of us to duly pat him on the back and declare him mad (but in a good way).

And, speaking of resurfacing, the Cowal Kayak Club is now providing yet more opportunities to paddle. The Friday night pool sessions have re-started and future trips are in the works. If I’m not careful, this paddling thing could become a bit of an obsession …

A new club, and other trials

There are certain clubs that are a pleasure to join and participate in. I can think of the 2 kayaking clubs that I have joined in the past couple of years. It’s been a while since we’ve been over at Garnock in Ayrshire and it’s not for want of wanting. We haven’t forgotten our pals over there and the fun we had with them last year. A happy complication occurred when the local Cowal club started up and met on the same night as Garnock. The choice was drive 20 minutes to the Cowal club, or 1.5 hours to Garnock. As you might guess, Cowal won out and we now hang our heads in shame in front of the Garnock crew (we do intend to return soon).

Some clubs aren’t so fun, and last week I discovered that I had qualified (without even trying!) for entry into a new one, the one called “Multiple Sclerosis”. Ugh. The diagnosis didn’t come as a shock as it’s been suspected since last October, and it is classified as “mild”. But somehow actually having the label pinned on me has been a bit unsettling, to say the least. Half of me is in complete denial – I feel fine overall and still have all my fitness, and the other half is determined to beat it (yes, I will be the one!). There’s another half of me (I know, I know) that is all messed up. I am told that that is natural.

I’ve been grappling around for something to lift me out of that third half’s abyss, to occupy my mind with more pleasant things. The other day, Alan and I decided to take advantage of the sultry temperatures and go to Loch Eck to try to roll our sea kayaks. I figured, now that I’ve mastered rolling the Dunoon pool boats (one of my proudest achievements of recent times), there was a fair chance of success and nothing would cheer me more than rolling my very own Nordy.

OMG it was like trying to roll concrete.

There are several possibilities here:

  • The amnesiac excuse: I’ve completely forgotten everything I ever learned about rolling (it sure felt that way).
  • The blame someone else excuse: the technique is waaay different between a river kayak and a sea kayak, even although several coaches assured me it would not be.
  • The feeble excuse: the cold shock of rolling in the not-so-sultry waters of Loch Eck deprived me of any cognitive ability, other than to gasp and panic.
  • The looking for sympathy excuse: I was a wee bit distracted and not in the best frame of mind.
  • The poor workman blames his tools excuse: the Nordkapp’s thigh braces aren’t the most gripping.
  • The bad karma excuse: my self-pride at learning to roll the pool boats was unwarranted and OTT, so this is what I get.

It was with great despondency that I exited the water realising that I have taken a bit of a step back, in more ways than one. But no-one promised us a rose garden, did they? Life is by its very nature a bit of a trial – it’s how we respond to that trial that determines how much we actually suffer. Happiness is, after all, a choice.

So I’ll try rolling again, maybe with my Capella just for comparison. I’d pay good money for appreciate any tips about transitioning from rolling a river kayak to rolling a sea kayak.

I’ll do a bit of yoga to sort my head out. And I’ll probably go for a paddle somewhere nice too.

Tomorrow is another day.

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,

Bunking off to Cumbrae and Gigha (Part 1)

A momentous event occurred this week: it stopped raining and blowing a gale for the first time in living memory, or at least in several weeks. A high pressure system finally managed to muster up enough oomph to nudge the all-too-prevailing low pressure out of the way for a bit. This left us with no choice, but we simply had to bunk off work take an official, well-deserved 2-day holiday. It did feel a wee bit like skidging school as we sneaked out the house, surreptitiously securing our kayaks to the car roof and wending our way seawards. We’d originally thought about camping out overnight, but a lack of forward planning/organisational skills narrowed our options and we decided to explore two quite different locales each day instead.

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

On Monday, we paddled around Great Cumbrae. Somewhat amazingly, especially considering that we are members of an Ayrshire kayaking club, we had never done this before and therefore felt that it was high time. Yet again, we found ourselves in flat calm conditions. If Nordkapps have feelings, I’m sure that ours would be experiencing anxiety, or even depression over having such soft marks as owners and being deprived of the conditions upon which they thrive. It’s not that we’re avoiding a more challenging environment, it’s more that we’re saving it for company (preferably of 5 star ilk with good rescue skills). Certainly though, a little more chop wouldn’t go amiss, however, the winds have tended to veer from gale force to non-existent of late, with not much in between. And so it was as we paddled our way around Cumbrae to Millport, a place I haven’t been since Sunday school picnics of yore.

We continued south and experienced some highly momentary excitement as the wake of a motor vessel caught up with us. But we soon returned to boring old idyllic, almost tropical, conditions as we made our way around to the western side of the island. This is where matters took a bit of a disappointing turn as we encountered endless amounts of rubbish in the water on the approach to Fintray Bay. It looked like someone had emptied a huge bin full of sweetie papers and crisp packets directly into the river. I have read recently that an excess of jellyfish signifies a degraded ecosystem, and – albeit coincidentally – there were certainly plenty of Lion’s Mane jellyfish in the vicinity of the rubbish tip that we paddled through. This all fed a building sense of despair which was compounded by the discovery of a dead guillemot floating in the water (a seabird whose future is in jeopardy – see recent news item). Like an icebreaker travelling through the Arctic, we managed to cut a path through the jellyfish up to Bell Bay where we stopped to enjoy the view and have a bite to eat.

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

I do find myself continually pausing to admire and photograph my Nordkapp LV whenever we land on a beach. It reminds me of an occasion in the past when, upon visiting the Grand Canyon, we were amused to see an enormous articulated RV (recreational vehicle) pull up to a scenic viewpoint. The driver jumped out of the cab and, while everyone else was turned to face the amazing scenery presented by the Canyon, he turned in the opposite direction to gaze with awe at his big rig and then take some photos of it. It is just a tiny bit troubling to note that I can now relate, however slightly.

Heading back to Largs

Heading back to Largs

We completed our trip by paddling around the north end of the island, affording us good views of the large pipe-laying vessel, the Solitaire, which has been anchored off of Cumbrae for some days now. Soon we were back over at Largs which was still happily bathed in sunshine.

And today Cumbrae is in the news. Continuing on a cheery environmental note, the scientists at the University Marine Biological Research Station located there are issuing warnings concerning the threat of invasive Japanese wireweed which has spread rapidly up the west coast of Scotland. Users of the sea are being asked to report any findings. I’m not entirely sure to whom, but I imagine that Scottish Natural Heritage would be a good start. Whilst I do take serious issue with certain environmental matters relating to Japan, I’m not convinced that the combined threat of Japanese wireweed and Japanese knotweed is part of a plot to entwine the world in weed. I do, however, wish they would confine their exports to the more traditional cameras and tellies … or at least send us an antidote.

With continuing good weather, albeit in more autumnal temperatures, we set off early on Tuesday for Tayinloan and a visit to the island of Gigha. More to follow …

Nordkapp Nirvana

Valley Nordkapp LV and Nordkapp

Valley Nordkapp LV and Nordkapp

Finally, the happy day arrived when we were united with our new Valley Nordkapps. We drove to Loch Lomondside on Thursday and met up with the chaps from Desperate Measures who kindly delivered our new charges to us, having travelled all the way from their birthplace (the kayaks’, that is) in Nottingham. My Nordkapp LV came wrapped in a big tubi-grip (which I’m sure will come in handy again some day for a very large sprain), and Alan’s Nordkapp was still in its factory wrappings. We loaded the kayaks on to our j-bars in the middle of a torrential downpour which I viewed as an auspicious baptism of sorts. Alan discovered that it was no longer feasible to suspend himself off of the ties when tightening them, as fibre-glass kayaks are slightly more delicate than our old plastic boats. On the drive south, a rainbow appeared (another auspicious sign) which had me contemplating a suitable name. I think Rainbow Warrior is, however, taken.

Nordkapp

Nordkapp

By happy coincidence, it was club night at the loch, so we headed straight for Kilbirnie. Our beautiful vessels were unveiled and launched (minus champagne, alas) amidst much favourable comment from our fellow paddlers. It was quite a privilege to have the history of the Nordkapp related to us by the elder statesman of UK kayaking, Duncan Winning, who played no small part in the development of the very kayaks we now proudly own.

Alan and I took great pleasure in birling around in circles in the loch as we edged with abandon, feeling as if the kayaks were an extension of ourselves. Finally, our energy was being channelled directly to the kayak, and not dissipating somewhere along the way as used to be the case. We found ourselves wondering how we’d managed for a whole entire year of paddling without this amazing advantage.

The self-rescue question remained prominent in my mind and I felt that there was no point in losing an opportunity to practice. So, as the evening darkness descended, in I jumped, once again marvelling at how liftable the Nordkapp LV is as I righted it and then clambered on top. I was able to maintain my balance and shuffled along to regain my seat, almost effortlessly. Yet another auspicious sign! It felt as if my kayak was proving its allegiance to me – the start of a beautiful relationship.

Happiness is ... a new Nordkapp LV

Happiness is ... a new Nordkapp LV

We were back out on Sunday in the flat calm of the Clyde as we paddled from Toward to Bute, to the Kyles of Bute, to Loch Striven and back to Toward. We must have sounded a bit like the nearby eider ducks, ooh-ing and aww-ing away at the wonderful qualities of our respective kayaks. The only thing missing was a bit of chop or swell in order to test the Nordkapps’ legendary performance in rougher seas, but I’m sure that will come soon enough.

I recognise that I have spent a great deal of time recently expounding affection for what is essentially a material thing. This rather contradicts the principles of non-attachment that I have been studying in yoga and in relation to mindfulness generally. I would argue in my defence that my kayak is not purely a material “thing”. It is very much a vehicle for focusing one’s mind away from the clutter of everyday life, the anxieties, the conditioned responses, the judgements. When you are out on the water, at one with your kayak and the sea, there is nothing else for you to do except just be in the moment. And that is nothing short of spiritual.

Nordkapp LoVe

Something unexpected happened last weekend: I fell in love! The object of my affection has it all – good looks, loads of personality, upstanding reputation, and I hope that our relationship will be long and rewarding. For those of you who haven’t connected the dots with the title of this post, I do not speak of a person (although Alan possesses all of the aforementioned qualities, of course), I speak of the thing of beauty that is the Valley Nordkapp LV sea kayak. I am smitten.

The Nordkapp LV (mine is red though)

The Nordkapp LV (mine is red though)

It had been on my short-list of kayaks to try out, based on my understanding of its qualities, especially in relation to a smaller paddler like myself. To be very honest, I was rather hotly anticipating the new Rockpool Isel, or the TideRace xPlore-S, but that was before I met the Nordy.

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