Alaska Marine Highway

My journey took me to King Cove, city, yes it has that status, on the south side of the peninsula. From here I can board the ferry to go as far as Homer, however due to the storms it is one day delayed which means one extra day for me here.

King Cove is the biggest town I’ve seen so far, it has two parts, the harbour with the Peter Pan fish processing plant and the village itself. 

I was again lucky, and Peter Pan allowed me to stay in one of their bunk houses. On Sunday Brook, Zain and I took a drive around the village. No walking here much, as the bears are in close presence.

I in the evenings, I joined in the local entertainment and actually won a game of pool, it was 20 years when I last played it.

There was one thing that struck me about the place. Wherever I go people are trying to understand my role in here, I am not local, I am not a fisherman, I don’t work on the plant nor am I an observer. And I was wondering how do they know I am not one of those things. Then, it dawned on me. I do not wear these brown wellies. Everyone wears them here, in many different fashions. So I guess that’s what makes me stand out. The lack of them. 

The Tustumena came on Monday afternoon, and it will be 48hours till I would disembark in Homer. The journey was interesting. I could admire the views of the south of the peninsula that Michal has paddled before me.  

We briefly stopped at Sand Point, and I quickly went to see the Russian Orthodox Church, well weather beaten but still standing. The Russian Orthodox religion well represented here. On the way to the church, just by chance I met a Tina, who hosted Michal and Freya some time before.  It wasn’t planned, and it was a chance encounter, the dog’s name is Charlie. 

The journey continued, with much of book reading, listening to some music, and landscape watching. The boat goes every two weeks, from Homer to Dutch Harbour and back. 

Eventually we reached the Homer Spit. I am hoping to stay here for a bit and maybe get some kayaking done. 

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bering Sea

I am not new to hitchhiking. The first time I remember hitchhiking was with my parents leaving an air show. I hitchhiked a lot when at university, as my uni town and home town were 400km apart,  and the train connection was long and expensive. With Michal we used to hitchhike to go climbing to France and to Spain. I remember one particular trip, that took us across the Alps in January, very cold, six days before my final exam at uni.

Sometimes, with my friend, we hitchhiked as a way to see random places relying on people to tell us where it’s the best to go.

I hitchhiked with big bags, with skies, 2 bicycles. So over time, I thought it would be great to hitchhike with a sea kayak, but haven’t had an opportunity yet. I hitchhiked on roads big and small, motorways, in towns and cities.

What I haven’t expected at all was that I would actually hitchhike on the sea to reach the so called  Alaskan Marine Highway. Yeah, I became a hitchhiker in Bering Sea.

The first boat I ended up on, was the rescue boat, Tony’s. However, I did not get much time to spent there. Just as I was starting to feel perfectly well, and was considering to become a commercial fisherman for the day, a tender appeared in the distance.

It was called Melanie, and was coming over to pick me up. It’s much bigger than Tony’s boat, so me and my stuff won’t be in a way of anyone.

Josh, Patty, Sam and Zack, the crew, made me feel welcome, I got my own tiny cabin, but spent most of the afternoon of the deck watching the fishing boats arrive, empty their fish into the tank, then getting fuel or water.

This went on until quite late in the evening. After that we made a brief stop at Port Moller, however, since it was already eleven in the night, I decided to stay on the boat. It picked up crates with ice, and went on to anchor in a bay better protected from the elements than the harbour is.

The next morning we took off and aimed right inside the Herendeen Bay. There the tender was meeting other two to transfer fish to take to King Cove to Peter Pan Cannery. I got to see how fish is sucked by a “hoover” from one tank into the other. But it wasn’t just the fish that was transferred, later in the afternoon myself and my stuff swapped from Melanie to Bering Hunter, which will be later heading to King Cove.

And King Cove is a place along the Maritime Highway giving me a chance to catch a ferry further east.

The crew of the Bering Hunter, Shaun, Brook and Zain, was very welcoming, too. Even Stanley the dog was stopping to have a chat. It will take good 24 hours for us to teach the Pacific side of the peninsula. Sadly the views were covered in fog and low clouds.

While the fish was still transferred, the hose broke loose spitting some on the deck, just when I came to watch. And as I explored the deck of the new tender, I noticed that it wasn’t just dead fish that was lying there, Freya’s kayak was there, too. So here we go. I think this is it, it almost makes me a hitchhiker with a kayak!

THE RESCUE

Thursday finally came, according to the forecast the calmest day of all four since Sunday. The day we should have been paddling to Port Heiden. Well, one of us is paddling, while the other has to go with the broken boat somewhere else. 

Because I won’t be able to continue on the journey by myself in Freya’s kayak, it was me who drawn the short straw. In the same time Freya made a decision for both of us, that she will continue to paddle, while I will fend for myself. I must admit, however happy I am that it wasn’t me breaking the boat, that no one sustained any injury, that no equipment was lost apart from Freya’s tow line, I am at the moment disappointed of having the trip cut short.

We got up early, as for the rescue we wanted to use the opportunity of slack tide at high tide, when the sea at our beach should be the calmest. Tony, fisherman who we met during our stay in Port Moller, has a dingy on his boat, and has been willing to assist us since Sunday evening.

And true to his word, at eight o’clock in the morning Tony launched his little dingy to come and get me and my stuff, while Freya will tow her broken pieces behind towards Tony’s fishing boat.

It took a bit of faff before we launched, as Freya was high on the fact that a rescue was going on, and that she will paddle, she’s been talking about it every day since Monday. Her and Tony exchanged gifts, and so on. Finally we were ready to go.

Firstly we helped Freya to launch and then Toni brought the two pieces to her.

My stuff and me made the dingy very heavy, and no, I am not a rower, so it was slightly slower progress from the beach to the fishing boat. Fortunately, there was Tony in his full diving gear and flippers pushing us along like a human propeller. Tony and Freya were way excited, to me it felt like journey to the gallows. 

Luckily it didn’t last long. We transferred all that was staying including the wreck on Tony’s boat, where AC was waiting for us. We waved the last good byes, and Freya was off. I immediately had a distraction from my misery, despite how calm it has been, I started to feel sea sick. Ouch.

The only sensible thing was to accept a patch against sea sickness, and make my home on the upper deck watching the horizon. Slowly it was getting better, and after AC’s super sweet ginger tea and some crackers, I was ready to look around. Sun was shining, snow capped mountains were coming out into view, and Tony and AC were getting ready for fishing.

I felt good enough to watch, but kept out of their way, they know what they doing, and don’t need me in a way. Yeah, it’s getting quite exciting not knowing what will follow in the next few days, as I make my way from here. In the meanwhile I watched the net to go in, then be taken out with some catch. 

CAPE SINIAVIN

By the time we leave and move on, we would have spent three full days on the beach just west of Cape Siniavin.

Alaska once belonged to Russia, and Russian fur hunters were the ones moving along this peninsula, this part of history is here, mainly written in the names of the places. And while Cape Kutuzov as named after a ship that was used to explore the Aleutian Islands, Cape Siniavin is named after a political and explorer.

The place where we made our camp was incredible. Long black sand beach, with ridge just behind full of berries and wild flowers, cliffs with birds, and nesting sea eagles on both ends. We decided to go for walk towards the main cliff, the Cape Siniavin. Following previous experience, before we took off along the beach, we decided to check over the ridge what our neighbours are doing, and sure, one of them was there.

Right, we didn’t fancy to leave the tent and risk that the bear would like it and move in while we are away. So we tried yesterday’s tactic to scare him away. Also, it’s not really advisable to go for walk with bear behind our backs. However, this time the bear wasn’t having it, it just would not get disturbed in whatever he was doing. Probably munching on berries, he was slowly zigzagging towards us or the beach. We showed off all our tricks, shouting, Freya’s steel band orchestra, my magic bear scare stick, nothing worked. The bear kept on going towards the beach and the cliff, where we wanted to go, too, seemingly not noticing us at all.

In the end we gave in, and slowly followed behind him. At some point it looked like we just went for stroll on the beach and took our pet bear with us. He was graciously going ahead of us, from the grass to the beach, then further along. Finally our paths split, as he continued under the cliffs, and we joined the path on top of them. The bear found a dead fish, pulled it along a bit, then ate it. I also made a discovery, not a fish to eat, but a glass ball. Hurray, my first glass float!

Since we decided to closely follow the cliff edge as not to miss anything that might be happening underneath, we soon had to wade through high, hard, wet plants drenching our shoes completely. The view was worth it though. First we climbed on top of the navigation light, and took in the scenery, then we went to see the walruses.

They were lying on the narrow strip just under the highest of the cliff, a mass of blueberry brownish pinkish bodies, long tusks everywhere. Suddenly we also saw our bear, just sneaking past them and walking away further east. Probably moving to better place since we invaded and kept disturbing his current one.

We spent time watching the walruses, first from the cliff, then from the beach in good distance away from them as not to cause stampede. Amazing, they swam, then laboureusly climbing onto the beach. It must have been a heck of a hard work for them, as they would move few paces. Then lie down and rest, then move again. The whole pack never seemed to stop, as as soon they all found a space, and lied down, one started to encourage his neighbour to move and to give him space. The tusks were long and strong, although some were missing one or parts of both.

We watch the and watch them until it was time to make our way back over the hill. We followed the well traveled bear trail and reach and our tent comfortably, quite fast without any further issues.

I was please, I brought my crocks with me, hopefully it would be sunny and dry tomorrow, and my shoes would have a chance to dry, as I am not putting wet ones on.

Indeed, we were lucky, the day broke into sunshine, and by one in the afternoon our shoes and socks were dry. It was time for another walk, this time east of the Cape. Again we chose the bear trail and then joined another long beach. It was bit of a glass ball hunt. But really we just walked for the sake of walking until we found a perfect couch to sit on and watch the life go pass by for a while. Tomorrow is the time for rescue.

THIRD DAY OF PADDLING

It was Sunday, and we already spent three nights in Port Moller, it was time to move on. The weather for today was slightly better, the wind was definitely calmer then previous days. The sea height was still a bit elevated, up to 1.5 metres give of take few, but we were wanting to go. After long discussion we decided to go. I was still apprehensive about the size of the surf, but Freya was sure it would be doable. 

We both got up quite early, and I went to look for Aaron or Randy to see if they can give us a ride in the cart to see the shore outside of the headland. We managed to do that, and the surf indeed looked very small. We were definitely going. So what followed was a period of high activity of packing, saying good byes and finally leaving. It felt god to be on the water again.

The wind was very low, the tide with us and we were making good progress along the coast. The shore line wasn’t exciting in a way one may imagine, no dramatic cliffs, no pretty views as it was still a bit foggy, no wild life, no anything that one often associates with sea kayaking.

The shoreline was formed by black sand with green grass on top, there and now it was broken by river mouth, which we could not see, but which announced itself by a change of water colour from grey to brown. Those two never mix. 

It started to be quite warm and sunny, and soon we both took the tops of our dry suits off. Then I joked I was finally paddling like Freya, wearing a black top. She had a different opinion, as I still kept my buoyancy aid on. And why not, I like it, it’s orange, and kept my top dry.

At some point we reached Cape Kutuzov, it looked a bit like Seven Sisters on the south coast of England just made of mud rather than chalk. Because the current was in our direction, we decided to continue further towards Cape Siniavin. We heard that there were walruses, and Freya wanted to see them that evening. The wind was getting stronger and stronger making the waves bigger, and I was starting to get a bit cautious about where and in what we may land. But Freya was fine, saying that around the corners, we might get a bit sheltered landing. What can I do, just paddle forward.

We approached the cape Siniavin, which was a welcomed change in view, as it actually was a cliff raising up, with what looked as hundreds of walruses packed underneath on a narrow beach. We decided to come closer to shore to see them, but could not get really close because of the raising waves and breakers.

After that we started to look for places to land. It was either beach between two headlands or after the next headland. Suddenly Freya thought she saw a place where it was good to land. It had some waves and a dumper, nothing I get very pleased about, but also it looked doable.

We discussed what and how we will do, and Freya went in first. I was meant to wait for her signal to come in, once she gets her boat up. I have no chance to move heavy loaded boat out of waves. Freya went and after a while landed, then the struggle with the boat began. Somehow it was taking quite a time, so I had to paddle around, and mostly turn into the waves and paddle back out as not to be swept by wind and current around the next cliff. Then finally the wave of her arm came and I could go.

It actually wasn’t that bad, a bit confused, but fortunately not real big breakers that usually scare me to stand still. Then it was a matter of waiting for three bigger waves to pass underneath before trying to catch the back of the last one to get to the beach before the dumper forms. Freya was standing there, ready to grab my bow. Done! Landed. But the feeling of victory and excitement was very short lived. As Freya suddenly said, that this was the end of my paddling trip. She wrecked her boat. And there it was, the best boat in the world was lying there with a mouth open bent in two pieces.

No, this is beyond repair here and now. So yes, the trip as it is at the moment is over for both of us, but really once we get of here, Freya can paddle in her other boat. 

Three days on paddling Alaska I have done. And just as I started to enjoy it and was getting into grips of getting most of Freya’s boat setting, it was over. Yes, fortunately no one was hurt, and no other equipment was lost. So that is definitely good, as for paddling, who cares, I might have to do that somewhere else.

After sorting the boats and equipment, we pitched tent on the beach. A brief peak over the top of the grass revealed a bear, but Freya managed to scare him away while I bravely covered behind her. This was really my first bear in the open with nowhere to hide, so I wasn’t the bravest of us. The bear run away up the hill and hopefully won’t come back.

We moved into the tent, I cooked dinner, while Freya started to exchange many messages with Tony from Port Moller of how we can get out of here. We have lots of food, fuel, and some water, so can stay for a while. The weather is meant to be better in few days, Thursday, so they can possibly come and rescue us. We will see. 

Michal’s Trip to Alaska – Part III.

Metal Prison         Monday 09.07.2018

Another rest day.

It started to feel as if we were in one big metal prison with all the sleeping in a metal box on metal frame bed with metallic noise of nonstop working machinery all around us. Even our mats had metal springs inside them. We started to feel an increasing desire to escape.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There isn’t much to do, we ventured to our wifi spot in the centre of the village, in front of the library and post office, by community centre. The next building up the road was medical centre. I was just walking up and down the dirt track chatting to Natalie, while Freya was sitting on the grass in front of the library, when a lady who seemed to work in the library arrived. First thing she said wasn’t “hello, is there anything I can do for you? Sorry library is not open yet.” This is probably the most likely thing one would hear from a lady working in library in England. But no, not here, no. First thing we heard was, “you have five minutes to go, this is not a place to do loitering.” Ok, we went, but it still left me wondering where are people expected to hang around if not by all of those community buildings?

After lunch we walked to the shop to buy few things, mainly milk as we are planning to go tomorrow. We checked the weather forecast in Trident office, and it looks like it’s meant to be calming down. Talking about the weather, either we are quite sheltered here in the False Pass or it was much better then predicted. Freya spent most of the day walking around with one line only: “It looks good. We should be gone today. We would be thirty kilometres further.”

Maybe, but we are here and there is no point to stress about something we haven’t done. So to distract her we walked around the city, that’s how they call this village, through the bear territory. I don’t know how smart it is walking through bushes following bear footprints. Few times our conversation looked like from the Far Side cartoon “Do you think they are any bears there?” “I don’t know, shall we have a look?”

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Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

Obviously as I am writing this, I can confirm there weren’t bears in the bushes above the village.

Now we are getting excited about the prospect of leaving tomorrow and are slowly putting things together to be able to pack swiftly in the morning.

 

Paddling Again          Tuesday 10.07.2018

Yesterday evening I set my alarm for the first time on this trip. I woke up at 4:59am, one minute before alarm would go off. That was good it meant that I could get up without waking Freya. It was early but I went into town to make a call to Natalie. It was the last opportunity to get on wifi for a while. It was good to be up so early. When I came back I headed straight for breakfast, on time for the first time since we came here, it’s served from 5 to 7am.

While I was having pancakes I overheard two girls chatting at the next table. Topic wasn’t interesting at all, something about clubbing, tattoos and police but they were talking in Czech!

I was tempted to join in to find out how someone comes to work all the way here from the centre of Europe. But decided against it, we were just about to leave.

We said good bye to everybody in the office and left in the direction to north. First, we started with hugging the coast quite closely to avoid current and wind, both were supposed to change soon. Suddenly we could see something brown in the bramble. Is it a fox? No it was bigger, a bear. Once we came closer, we could just see the bear’s head. He appeared to be sitting and watching us taking photos, then slowly stood up and walked away. It looked so cute, just like a teddy bear. I’m sure if we had met him yesterday on our walk we would think exactly the same.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_7757

We started to paddle offshore due to the tide turning. For some reason the wind was more northerly rather than the forecasted westerly. And it was getting stronger, soon we were pushing into headwind and agreed that it didn’t make any sense to go out into Bering sea. It would be too big. We aimed for the northeast corner of the inner lagoon planning to land on a sand bar and portage. Wind was now solid F6, partly headwind partly sidewind. We were paddling hard and suddenly we realised that the water was becoming quite shallow. Tide was supposed to be coming in, so we felt quite confident we could make it very close to the corner. Suddenly we were aground. Not really knowing how much the water rises we decided to pull in the direction of what we assumed was deeper channel. For a really hard five hundred meters we sank knee deep into a combination of sand and mud in every step. Fortunately we made it and were afloat again. Just as landed, we could see bear slowly walking along the beach. Exactly where we needed to go. Fortunately, in the end it was wandering away from us, it took us couple of hours to empty boats and carry everything to the top of the sand dune.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we could finally glimpse then Bering Sea our language turned French. We could hear the noise coming over the dunes but we still were not ready to see this wild messy surf violently crashing into black sand. Nobody can make me to go out in this, not even in my nice empty playful Xtra I have at home. In fully loaded expedition seakayak? Forget it. No chance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now sitting in the tent on the top of the sand dunes knowing there’s a bear walking somewhere around, sea crashing madly into the beach, we were wondering what is the chance of it all magically settling down tomorrow as forecasted.

I would almost forget, in the first ten minutes on the beach watching surf I found Japanese glass net float. We were told there are thousands of them on the north side and it looks like it might be true!

 

Walrus in the Surf          Wednesday 11.07.2018

Freya was awake quite early and eager to go. Well sea was down significantly from the sea state we observed yesterday, but there was noticeable surf visible even from our tent on the top of the dunes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While we were getting ready I thought “if we won’t be able to paddle out in this, we won’t be able to make it to Nelson Lagoon”. So it must be done, regardless how I feel about it.

When we were finally prepared to launch Freya asked who should go first. I volunteered.

As I put my spraydeck on, a wave came and took me. Set looked okay so I started to paddle out. Few strokes and I tried to free my rudder, nothing happened. Again few strokes to keep the kayak straight and I tried again. I had both hands behind me holding the launching string and pulling forward and down. Plop, suddenly the rudder became free. In that meantime I was being pushed to the right and a big set was coming. I just tried to stay upright, pushing hard agains each wave. I was going no where, being smashed, and surfed backwards, I was barely able to hold position. Twice I had to half roll but didn’t go in. Suddenly it looked like there was a break. I pushed hard. My muscles were hurting and I was breathing heavily trying do get in as much oxygen as possible. Few times I was lucky and managed to jump over the wave just before it crashed. It is interesting sensation to have fully loaded expedition seakayak airborne. Finally I was out. I would like to see photo of my fight but I seriously doubt, it even crossed Freya’s mind that she could take her camera out of her pocket while watching me struggling. Now it was her time.

I could see her standing on the beach next to her kayak for a while. Then she disappeared from the view. She is going out, I thought. Suddenly I could see her again, hauling her kayak back up on the beach. Again she was just standing there watching the sea. Then small set came and she was punching through the waves. This time she was lucky and we were both afloat. When we were side by side we chatted about our experiences. None of us liked it, we agreed it was one of our worst surf launches ever and Freya showed me the damage to her foredeck, which happened while she tried to paddle out unsuccessfully on her first attempt. After brief break to cool down from all the excitement we started to paddle.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There used to be village next to the place we camped called Old Morzhovoi village, it actually means Old Walrus village. I didn’t think much about it until Freya pointed to a big group of sea otters. They were really cute. At that moment big head popped out just on the other side. That’s a big seal. “Shit” seal doesn’t have tusks. This is fu..ink walrus! No, there are two big walruses, and they are heading for us! We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have a clue how walrus behaves and if they are aggressive. I was taking photos and when they were too close we just started to paddle away. It seemed like the only thing for us to do, although we knew there wasn’t a chance out paddle a walrus. Fortunately they decided not to follow. I have to admit it was quite scary to see big head with two massive teeth coming at you while you can only sit and watch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By now we were passing the third entrance to the Izembek Lagoon. Our plan was to go in through the last entrance and land on the inside of the natural wave breaker. Passing two previous entrances gave us a great opportunity to observe where and how the surf breaks.

After long sixty kilometres we were heading in. Freya lead the way in the lagoon and soon we landed after zigzagging and dogging surf breaks.

We set our tent and went for short walk to get a different point of view from the shore and to look at the path we took through the surf.

Also it was good to see if there were any bears in the vicinity. Today we only saw their footprints. It was a pleasant walk combined with beach combing, we both managed to find three Japanese glass net floats!

Now the question was if we would paddle tomorrow, forecast was on the border line with strong offshore wind so we postponed any decision making till the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Glass Ball Hunt         Thursday 12.07.2018

Wind was shaking our tent and Freya didn’t wake me up, so I assumed we are not paddling and continued sleeping in till ten in the morning. At that point it looked like Freya would appreciate some help with fixing her boat so I finally climbed out of my sleeping bag.

After glueing some bits and pieces and having breakfast we reinforced our tent with more strings and brought some logs from the beach to weigh down the tent pegs. We were camping on the sand dune and wind was already gusting F6.

Now it was time for beach walk. Freya decided she will take her back pack because we may find more glass floats. I wasn’t that optimistic and when she asked how many I think we would find I said four.

It was low tide and strong wind was carrying lots of sand, fortunately it was blowing offshore and we stayed quite high on the beach. It was quite an impressive sight as masses of sand were flying just past us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soon I found first glass ball of the day. In the next few minutes I had three more and Freya found one too. We were walking along the beach and there and now one of us would start running and shouting “there, there, it’s mine!”

Freya’s bag was becoming full, now we were only excited if when we found four or five together, or if it had a colour we have not found yet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We filled the bag fully, and Freya took off her waterproof trousers, we filled them too. When we started to fill her jacket I thought this was enough and introduced new rule. We could go further pass the last spotted glass ball only if we can see another one. We managed to fill the jacket too. We were dragging the bag, trousers and jacket full of glass balls back into an increasing wind. Now it was solid F7 and we were becoming more and more worried if our tent was still ok.

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Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

By the time we got back it was gale 8. Tent was shaking violently and we knew we had to move it to a more protected spot behind a dune which was not far. That was good. Sand was hitting us hard and the only time we could open our eyes was when facing downwind. One hour later we were in our tent again. It wasn’t shaking too badly but sand was everywhere, in our eyes, ears, nose, clothed, pockets, sleeping bag, pots, tent. Just about everywhere. But we had dinner and were as comfy as possible again. Tomorrow is another day off, wind might last one more day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Windbound           Friday 13.07.2018

We had second day off in the row. That meant we have to stretch the few activities we could do here. Again I tried to sleep for as long as I could and get up half past ten. We kept reading for most of the day. Once we went for short walk on the beach but not too far. It was still pretty windy, probably F7, and we picked up all glass balls yesterday. Only new thing we found today was a skeleton of a small whale.

Main excitement of the day was counting and selecting glass net balls. We spread them in the porch and went through three times to make sure we have the correct number. Without much effort we harvested 101 glass balls! It’s obvious we don’t have a chance to take them all. So we spent another half an hour selecting the best ones. I have chosen 21 and Freya 31 of them. We will see tomorrow if we have enough space in our kayaks to take those.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now is time to read again. I’m slowly running out of books on my kindle. Hopefully there will be a chance to download something new in Nelson Lagoon. If weather lasts we should get there on Sunday evening. Fingers crossed.

 

GPS Addiction            Saturday 14.07.2018

Leaving Izembek Lagoon was easy. We had two and half days to observe the surf breaking on the sandbars and picking up the best channel. Our chosen line worked smoothly even with the tide running agains us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just after we passed the last breaker I spotted white crushing wave ahead. “That’s strange” I thought “we should be clear of everything by now”. One minute later a whale flew out of the water and dropped back with amazing splash. Wow! Whale in the air! I have seen whale airborne!

Shortly after as we started to follow sandy coast I noticed some boulders on the beach. I didn’t think much of it until Freya said that there are no stones here and we should paddle closer.

She was right, although we could not paddle too close due to significant surf, we could see bear walking on the beach with three cubs. Half an hour later another big bear was walking in the same direction. Until today we saw only three bears all together and now five in less then one hour!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soon after that the tide turned, we had some current against us with cross wind behind. Sea started to be choppy and our progress dropped. Freya started to watch her GPS a lot. Every time I looked over my shoulder she was looking down on it. Sometimes I think she is really addicted to it. Or maybe there are just two lines showing on her little screen, “paddle in, paddle out”.

She started to complain that our speed dropped to four kilometres per hour because we are paddling in tiderace. I didn’t say much. Nobody should call one knot of flow with wind against a tiderace. What’s more, I couldn’t really say loud what I was thinking “Just put the paddle in the water and stop watching that screen!”

Freya was really proud of her forward paddling and she can paddle well. But when she starts to watch her GPS her paddling goes out of window. She would be such a good example of how not to paddle. When her head goes down to see the little screen on her spraydeck her whole posture is compromised. She stops rotating and paddle barely touches the water.

I wasn’t surprised when she indicated that she is tired and it would be best to call it a day. We successfully managed to avoid nasty breaking waves and surf on small set in to the beach. Now we are camping on the highest point of the beach just under crumbling sandy cliff hopping that tide won’t came too high.

Just as we were getting ready to sleep we could hear a noise which sounded like helicopter. We got up and as we were trying to open the tent to see it came straight above us. It was following the shore very tightly probably less then twenty metres high. Shame we were not fast enough and could take photos, we thought. And then we could hear it again. We got out and started to take pictures. It passed us, did big loop and flue over as again and disappeared.

 

Whales and Bears          Sunday 15.07.2018

We started to pack when it was still almost dark with the aim to catch morning tide in our direction.

Surf was reasonable. Freya was going first this time. I was holding her kayak at the front just on the water edge. Then, when small set came, I helped her to pull it in the water as she jumped in the cockpit and continued pushing so she could get fast through the first wave without getting much water in the cockpit. Then it was my turn. I waited patiently for small set just on the water edge. When last big wave passed I quickly pushed my kayak on the water and jumped in the cockpit. Timing was perfect, I went over smaller wave which even didn’t splash in the cockpit and paddled out.

As we were paddling along the coast we started to discuss how and where we are going to finish this leg of paddling. More precisely where I will finish and Natalie will take over. After considering our options several times, we concluded that Nelson Lagoon would be best. Freya seemed to be tired a lot in the last few days. I have to admit that I’m tired too. But more mentally then physically. If everything goes well I might be able to fly back to London and see Natalie before she leaves.

Ok, we made a plan and I phoned Natalie to let her know. She was glad to hear me, but sounded were apprehensive about surf on this stretch of coast. It’s hard to say how much surf she should expect, we had two huge days of it, but today is really calm.

One thing I’m learning on this trip is to be patient and don’t stress myself with things I cannot change. Like Freya, nobody can change Freya. Just to give you one example from today. We agreed we will try to make as much progress towards Nelson Lagoon especially in the morning. We knew we will have tide against us and headwind in the afternoon. So we are paddling few hundred meters offshore to have help from tide and to avoid all shallow areas where waves were getting stepper. Suddenly as we turn small corner Freya goes and starts to hug the coast. Apparently, when I pointed out that our speed dropped by one knot, I was told it is more entertaining to see what’s on the shore. Ok, every kilometre we won’t make now when it is easy, we will have to make against the tide and wind. Who cares that this coast is as exciting as paddling south of Withernsea.

Later on we noticed some water sprouts in the distance. We came closer and were surprised to see a whale so close to the shore. It was also resurfacing and disappearing very very slowly. Now we could see some old pods or cabins on the shore and started to consider landing to have a closer look, we spotted bear family, mum and three cubs. At the same time second whale appeared just behind us. We did not know what to photograph first. Just in case it wasn’t enough, small plane came and started to circle above us. It was really intense moment, often there were hours of paddling without any interaction and suddenly everything happened at the same time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before we landed for the day we could see one more bear family, mother with two young ones, one more whale and a ship wreck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our camp was full of bear prints and a small baby seal was constantly climbing up and down the tall sandy beach.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We should make the last 37 kilometres to Nelson Lagoon tomorrow and Freya is trying to arrange our flight out for Tuesday. I hope it will all work out smoothly.

 

Nelson Lagoon            Monday 16.07.2018

Morning was grey with drizzle and fresh westerly wind. Fortunately no surf, just some splashy waves, so launching was straightforward.

We had tide and wind with us therefore we were making nice progress even without much effort. Yet again we were following this low sand dunes with grass on top of them. We could not see much more through low clouds and occasional rain. But Freya still found it interesting enough to paddle close to the shore and kept either watching that or her GPS. I know why I became so tired and logging for break. It was all this waiting. It frustrates me when we should be making progress and I have to be waiting even when I am putting in just half of the effort. Ok, eventually this slow paddle was interrupted by whale. Again it was really close to the shore and just flapping around. When we where twelve kilometres from Nelson Lagoon Freya decided it’s time to switch her satellite phone on and check messages. No problem I thought we have plenty of time. Half and hour later she finally putt her phone away. We were sitting in the rain and wind slowly drifting while getting cold and she was texting like a teenager.

Eventually we landed by a dirt track road leading to Nelson Lagoon and my paddling with Freya was over. We walked to the village to find Justine who should put us up and help us to sort out logistics.

We were wondering between houses hoping that either we eventually meet someone or find official looking building and ask for Justine, who works for local government.

We found her in the Post office building, we walked in and there she was: “Hi, you are here. I’m Justine.”

After greetings we asked about flying out. She started to make phone calls and arranged for Grant Aviation to take us to Cold Bay the following morning. From there we booked PenAir flight to Anchorage. Next thing was to change my flight to London.

Next, we had to sort out the transport for our kayaks and equipment from the beach. Justine offered to drive, we loaded everything including our kayaks. We put them across the open back with me standing and holding them. Now it was time to drive into the village. It was tight but we didn’t lose anything, neither kayaks nor me.

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Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

We stayed in lovely self catering, the signs around indicate that it is mainly used by anglers. We sorted all our gear, I made a list of things I’m leaving behind for Natalie and packed the rest.

Soon I will become quite anxious as there are three days of travel with multiple flights ahead of  me to get to London.

 

Flying Out           Tuesday 17.07.2018

This morning we woke up ready to fly out. The only hiccup was we didn’t know when would our flight be leaving. When Justine helped us to book the flight yesterday she said was leaving in the morning. “Ok”, we asked, “what time?”

“I don’t know” she replied, “I have to call them in the morning.”

So now we were up, quite early. Just in case. We were thinking what would be the best way to find out more. Then Justine phoned, “your flight is at 9:30am. I’ll pick you up at 9”.

We got everything ready and stopped at Justine’s place on the way to the airport to drop off bags with gear which will be staying here for Natalie and Freya to continue in ten days.

I was quite taken back by the amount of expensive stuff laying everywhere when we walked into Justine’s place, cars, lawnmowers, power tools, computers, huge tv, drones. Wow. I thought. All of those small places look really poor and run down from the outside. I wonder how people here earn the money. I mean living here is pretty costly. There is no shop here. Everything comes by plane, even bottled water. They have water supply which is absolutely fine to drink but they prefer bottled water!

No wonder that half of the village was on the way to the airport with us.

We climbed out of the car and watched the unloading process. Cars quickly surrounded the plane on gravel airstrip. Dust was slowly settling down and boxes were being passed to different cars. Boxes and boxes.

Boxes of beer, wine, vodka. I hardly could spot anything else being unloaded. I wondered, plane lands here three times a week, is it always like this? No wonder there is police officer here even if there are no more than 35 people living in the village.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We took off. Three of us almost filled the plane, Freya, I and our pilot. Soon we were above the low lying clouds and could admire number of snow covered volcanoes around. At some point, we paddled around most of them.

In half an hour we landed in Cold Bay. We are changing plane and the airline. We checked in, and were told that our handheld luggage is just too big to fit into the overhead lockers because plane is quite small. We made sure our bags were marked ‘fragile’, in the end they are full of glass balls. Then we went for a stroll through the town and stopped in a shop and library.

Our flight to Anchorage was briefly stopping in Sand Point. It was nice to see bits and pieces of coast we paddled around through the clouds.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In Anchorage we stood on the tarmac watching the plane being unloaded and waited for our handheld bags. There were not coming, I could see my check in luggage being transferred but our bags were nowhere to be seen. When the plane was empty it was time to move to the baggage claim desk, yes our bags were left behind in Cold Bay. Ours and two other. Great.

They worked out that they should be able to deliver Freya’s to Seattle on Thursday early morning. They seemed to have no idea how to get mine to London. Perfect, when it gets there it will be full of smashed glass. Anyway, it would be nice to be reunited with my helmet at some point. Sweet Rocker is not particularly cheap.

Now it was time to go to desk to check in. I went there straight as they opened. I handed my passport over, then my booking reference, and after a long pause I was told that there was no change done to my booking. So I am still on the flight leaving in ten days.

There is no one to help me I was told. I was advised to go and use public pay phone as mine doesn’t work for some reason. “Sorry, there is nobody to help you here,” this line was delivered with a look which clearly said, “and leave now, there is a queue behind you “.

Great. Bag lost. Booking messed up.

I spent few minutes thinking about what to do next. Even if I find a pay phone here it would be bloody expensive. Those phone calls take forever.

So I made my way back to baggage claim desk. If someone is going to be helpful it would be the lady I spoke to earlier. If nothing else she feels guilty about her airline losing my luggage.

And yes. She was incredibly helpful, let me to use their phone to call and call, after half an hour I managed to track down the guy who was updating my ticket yesterday. His response was simple “Yes, I told you that your booking was changed but it didn’t go through. I didn’t have means how to contact you “. What a ….. he had my email, too.

Ok, another half an hour on the phone talking to different people receiving similar answers, it was time to send message to the UK with hope that in couple of hours in the morning there will be someone much more skilled to do magic with airline tickets.

Good thing was that this airport had free WiFi so I could use my iPad to communicate. By one in the morning I had new ticket to London from Seattle for £145. Few air companies were still busy with last departing planes. I quickly researched online prices and went to talk to Alaska Airline, it didn’t take long and I had ticket to Seattle as well. On the other hand, this delay gave me just enough time to retrieve my lost hand luggage before leaving for Seattle.

It took a while, flights were long but two days later I finally touched down at Heathrow Airport. This adventure was over.

Ever since I agreed to join Freya I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sometimes I was quite nervous about it. For two main reasons. I often paddle with lots of different people but when it comes to more serious paddling I’ve always done it with just one person, my wife Natalie. Now I was meant to join Freya, who has paddled a lot, and on her own, and whose image is quite controversial.

Now, after spending weeks of paddling with her, I can say I am surprised how well we managed to get along.

Maybe, because expedition seakayaking is quite straightforward and although we haven’t paddled together before we had same understanding of what to do when. I was quite pleased to find out that although Freya had many more years of paddling experience I didn’t lack behind, neither physically or skill wise.

Probably best thing about this trip was that I didn’t have to worry about Freya. She is incredibly good in being able to take care of herself. Skill, which she honed during years of solo paddling. It was a new experience for me, doing all previous challenging kayaking with my wife meant, I was always really cautious about my decision making. Regardless of how good my wife Natalie is, there is always an extra responsibility when paddling with your partner.

Paddling with Freya was really good in that aspect. We were paddling as equal partners and it worked really well.

If it comes to that in the future, I would happily join Freya on her North America circumnavigation again.

Iceland – Let’s talk about it

The expedition to Iceland has finished a while ago, and finaly, recently we shared online our video from the trip. The clip is made to complement our talk about our adventures around the coast of Iceland. And even, if you won’t have a chance to listen to us talking about our experinces, it will tell enough.

Currently we are sorting out dates for talks in London and in Gent in Belgium. Our closest event is going to be at an outdoor festival Obzory in Prague on the weekend of 11-12 of November 2017. We will be presenting on Sunday.

Iceland – Summary of the expedition

The return to normal life after our expedition to Iceland could not have been faster for me. Having landed in London on Tuesday at lunch time, I was back at work the following morning. That was ok, only meaning, that I haven’t had much time to think through some of our trip experiences. However snippets of memories have been steadily coming back almost every day. And finally four weeks after landing I started to write down some summary.
When I looked back into the calendar and counted the days of our trip some interesting numbers came out. The whole expedition lasted 70 days from the first paddling day to the last one, when we arrived back to Reykjavik. Out of which we had 38 days paddling days and 32 non paddling days. The longest we waited for the weather was the 9 days at the end, the weather never improved and we finally decided to finish.
The distance we covered was approximately 1500 kilometres, and we were short of reaching Reykjavik, our starting point, by 300-350km. 

As we have been waiting for suitable paddling weather a lot, very often we would ask ourselves if we should have pushed harder, paddle longer, launch sooner. And every single time, as we paddled the stretch, for which we waited, we were really glad we didn’t attempt it earlier in bigger conditions. The risks we would expose ourselves to would be too great.

If I compare this trip to others we have done before, this was by far our hardest trip. Most days we would have fairly strong headwind for significant part of the paddling day. To make the most of the weather we started to paddle any time of the day or night. Actually, more accurate numbers would be 26 paddling days and 12 paddling nights. At one point we paddled 52Nm within a 24 hour period with 4 hrs of sleep. I don’t recall any significant weight loss during any of our previous trips and expeditions. Here I lost 10 kilos in 8 weeks.
Our boats were quite heavy, we had been carrying provisions for 4 weeks most of the time. We never knew when we would reach the next shop. In the end, due to careful planing, decision making and sometimes pure luck, we were able to restock every 10 days, the longest time between shops was 16 days.
When on expedition like this, number of things is a must. The really obvious ones are kayak, tent, paddle, sleeping bag and so on. Yet, there were few small things which made unexpectedly big impact on our wellbeing. I will name three of them.
We always struggled with latex neck seal and salt water combination. Every time we come back to work after a weekend of paddling, people would be asking if someone tried to strangle us. Therefore the prospect of wearing drysuit day after day wasn’t something we were looking forward to. Fortunately I managed to find 1mm neoprene collar that could be worn between our neck and latex seal. It worked magic! Now it lives permanently in a drysuit pocket ready to be used any time.

It is always easy to focus on paddling gear while preparing for long journey and overlook land based stuff. To select only one pair of land shoes which would do everything for two and half months proved to be difficult. In the last possible moment we found high ankle boots which were also incredibly soft to pack small to fit into the kayak. At the same time they provided comfort in rain, snow, sand and survived abuse on lava fields.

For years we had been sleeping on our trusty self inflatable mats, however as we are getting older, it was time to get something more comfortable. In the end we bought large dawn sleeping mats, incredibly expensive, but worth every single pound we paid for them. They were wide enough to take over most of our three man tent. They were high to give enough comfort to our backs, and provided amazing insulation on cold Icelandic nights, that the fleecy onesie never made it out of its dry bag. They packed small into the hatch, but in an emergency could be used as lilos to float us around. Natalie was convinced of that.

Of course this expedition would not happen without the constant support from Tiderace Seakayaks. We have been paddling Pace Tour for last four years and we knew that it was the best kayak to take on such a journey. Its capacity, comfort and efficiency makes it an incredibly well balanced kayak. It’s also fun to paddle fully loaded and is really reliable in big and messy conditions. We knew that our kayaks would have to go through lots of abuse, therefore we chose the strongest layup, thatTiderace offers. I remember being particularly glad to choose this layup when I had to seal launch fully loaded kayak from boulders through dumping surf. In the end of our trip we each had just one chip in gelcoat.

We expected to endure very complex and ever changing weather so went for the best and chose Kokatat wanting to stay dry, warm and comfortable. The expedition drysuits worked magic but our favourite piece of kit became their salopettes.  For years I believed it wasn’t possible to have just one PFD that would work in any environment and for any paddling. On this trip I discovered Maximus Centurion pfd, it gave me plenty of pocket space for all the gear and vhf, and offered the best freedom of movement compared to any BA’s I’ve ever tried before. It works perfectly on the sea and as it’s primarily designed for whitewater it works there well too.

We have been struggling for years to find kayak shoes which would work and mainly, last. I have been told few times that I expect too much from my paddling shoes and I should be more realistic. During last few weeks of our UK circumnavigation my shoes resembled more a roll of duck tape than shoes. Natalie’s shoes disintegrated completely on our Northern Four expedition. So this time we wanted shoes which would actually last. Astral shoes did more than just that. They have sticky rubber to stop them slipping on shore. They are just high enough to stay on even when trying to walk through horrible terrain, and mud, and most importantly they are nicely wide and comfy when paddling.

For most paddling trips, weather is the one factor with biggest impact on them. Having good and reliable forecast is an essential part of an expedition. We were lucky to be receiving very accurate weather forecast twice a day from Karel. It was making it easier for us to know when it was a good time to commit and when it was better to stay on shore.

We undertake long expeditions not only to explore places and enjoy the everyday satisfaction of miles covered. What we like most, is the various chance encounters with people. Paddling around Iceland has become memorable due to meeting people at the right time.
Firstly it was Gisli and Gudni, who helped us with logistics at the start and finish of the trip. Maggi in Isafjordur, who led us his SPOT, when ours started to play up.

Then is was all the people who shared their homes and food with us. Hefdis and Thor in Arnarstapi were the first, who took us in for few days, looked after us and showed us their area. Maggi’s mum invited us for lunch on a Sunday. In West Fjords, of which we were warned they would be deserted at the that time of the year, we met three brothers Frederic, Gudnar and Inky. Thanks to them we could stay in warmth and under a roof during a week of storms. Their distant cousin in Fljotavik invited us to stay for two nights after we helped him to unload of the delivery boat. Jon and his wife in Reykjanes let us to thaw in their living room after a particularly freezing couple of days. The farm lady on Skaggi peninsula not only invited us for coffee and snack, but gave us butter, which we used as butterometer ever since. Liney from Thorshofn invited us for great breakfast and gave us us books as ours were finished. Ari from Neskaupastadur kayak club waited for us and let us stay in the club house for two nights. Then, there were Kidda and Siggi we met on the south coast. Because of their openness, and them lending us their car and letting us help them on the farm, we could keep sane during the long wait for the weather. When the time came to make the sad decision to finish before completing the full circle, Kidda drove us all the way to Gisli’s in Reykjavik.

The expedition is now finished, and while we are still reminiscing in the moments and memories, many people seem to need to ask us what next. The answer is the same, next, we go back to work. And only when the right time comes and we come up with new plan and save enough money we will know where to next.

Wave Machines

There are many things London has to offer to a visitor: architecture, scenery, history, just to name a few. Through all this the river weaves its path and attracts attention with its amazing views into the naval history, the beaches or water splashing over the railings, and of course the strong tides. Large numbers of boats pass up and down through the city at any time of the day. For me, however, the ones that create the beautiful wake to surf are the most interesting.  We call them Wave machines.

The feeling of excitement if a wave machine appears travelling in the right direction. Then, all what’s needed, is to check all is safe and paddle closer. To get the most of the waves and prolong the ride, it is best to surf diagonaly in the same direction as the chased boat. It is very easy to turn to much towards  the boat or to be too, aggressive in correction, both result in loosing the wave. Sometimes the first wave is not the best one, and it pays to wait for the third.

Last weekend we went for short paddle and made a little clip.

Summary of Northern Four Project

Logo NORTHERN FOUR

“There are rumours, that you’ve won a lottery”

This sentence we heard shortly after we’ve came back from Scotland. Well, the true was, we didn’t. However we understand why somebody could come up with such an idea. Yes, going away paddling for almost two months would be much easier with winning lottery ticket. Without one, there were many smaller and bigger things to do and difficult decisions to be made.

From past experiences we knew that to organise it all, to take unpaid leave, to save money, to get a flatmate to be able to pay rent while away, the project needs to be inspiring. Once there was an inspiring idea, which proved to be hard to resist, everything became much easier.

It has been for some time, that we had an urge to go paddling again. First, we played with ideas of circumnavigating one bigger island or other. Yet, a distant memory of glimpsing an outline of far away islands while standing on the edge of the world was coming back constantly. It soon proved to be so tempting, that in a very short space of time we found ourselves strong enough to leave the illusion of the safety of everyday routine and  temporarily leaving the comfort of our jobs and home, we headed for Scotland.

Our plan was very simple. We needed to find somebody, who would get our kayaks somewhere to the coast of west Scotland (thanks Paul), then paddle further west and north attempting to visit four remote islands, before coming back to the mainland. After which we were again hopeful to find somebody, who could move our kayaks closer to London. To get the best chance to succeed we went for almost whole of May and June. The time, when the weather supposed to be settled, and were it was most likely to get few weather windows.

But let’s start at the beginning, when everything went according to our plan. Paul kindly took our kayaks to Glenuig, which was the perfect starting place. It allowed us to nicely build up distances during our open crossings to Eigg, Canna, and South Uist. After a storm we continued around Benbecula with a stop at Monach Isles to Hougharry on North Uist. Place from which we wanted to go west to St Kilda.

At that point it really started to be all about weather and sadly the weather wasn’t cooperating well with our ambitious plan. After few days of waiting it became apparent that if we want to have any chance to paddle to Kilda, or any other island from our list, we have to keep paddling. It didn’t matter much where, we just had to spend time on the water to stay focused and to get better in big conditions. As they never became smaller due to the constant gales. We started to move north towards Harris and Lewis knowing that if weather improves we could keep it just within a day paddle to starting point for either St Kilda or Flannan Isles. When that fell through, we continued with the same idea along Lewis’s west coast making it all the way to the Butt. We were constantly looking for widows to go to one or another island.

Slowly we realised that our plan would not materialise and came to terms that we are just having a different experience of Outer Hebrides to what we ever imagined. To tease us more a weather window to go to Kilda started to form just when we reached Port Ness. The weather window was shaping in four or five days, however we needed at least five in nice weather to paddle back to Hougharry.

This was the point when Natalie decided it was time for some creativity. If we couldn’t get south fast enough by sea, we were going by land, cars and with nice people from Stornaway Canoes.

Yes, we made it and crossed to Kilda, where we spent amazing week in an incredible environment. It is only now, while being back to London, that we realise the uniqueness of it all. The worst spring in thirty years put spot to our plan, yet it allowed to explore places and meet people that we never would otherwise.

Red dots – paddling before Stornaway taxi

Blue dots – paddling after Stornaway Taxi and before Elizabeth G lift

Green dots – paddling after Elizabeth G

Yellow dots – random lunch stops