About Michal

Climber Seakayaker Photographer

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.

Advertisements

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

Moments to remember

It has been two weeks now since we came back from Scotland, and finally we had the time to go through all photos from our trip. It’s interesting, how some pictures can bring up memories of the moment in which they were taken. Here are few to share.

 

Already when we were crossing to South Uist, we knew a storm would come during the night. We aimed at the Uisinish Bothy. In the next few days we had first chance to experience what the weather on Outer Hebrides may look like. This photo captures the moment when we were going to put more boulders on our kayaks to ensure they won’t be blown away in imminent force 9.NF 13

We paddled for six or seven hours in a big variety of conditions and ended up paddling into increasing headwind and rain. Shortly after we landed and managed to put our tent up a car stopped by. We were offered freshly prepared crab and selection of cakes. Including coffe and walnut one! What a perfect finish to paddling day.NF

Have we mentioned the weather yet? This was the beginning of summer half term in England and Natalie finally got the snow she was talking about all winter.NF 12

We were looking for somewhere to pitch our tent for the next few nights. there wasn’t much land suitable. Until we spotted this flat patch of grass, which promised some privacy from dog walkers. Who cared it was in plain view of the whole village of Port Ness. This photo was taken at midnight. kilda 14

When we were crossing from Hirta to Boreray the sea was smooth with swell like rolling carpet underneath. The sea and space were so huge that these stacks looked like mere boulders rather than the two hundreds meters high rocks, they were.NF 3

As we were approaching Boreray the loudness of the sea was deafened by the cacophony of the birds. With every meter we came closer the sound of the gannets’ wings slicing through the air got  louder and louder. Boreray, Tiderace, Pace Tour, sixknots, Stac Lee

There were moments, when we thought that the tent would have it, as it often seemed that someone was throwing buckets of gravel on it. Yet, after each episode we were rewarded by spectacular displays of nature’s art. NF 7

At one point, while following he coast of this beatiful island, Natalie decided to claim it her own. She scribbled her initial there for everybody to know.Tiderace, Pace Tour, sixknots,

After a while we got used to the size of the swell. If we thought we paddled in big swell before, here it was much bigger. Several times we were given the chance to have birds view of each other. When the waves hit the cliffs the sea became, even more spectacular and added special features to its repertoire. NF 11 NF 10

We landed in Uig Bay hopeful that the weather would finally give in and we could try to catch up with our original plan. Although this never happened, we spent several nights there being entertained by its people, landscape and weather. uig

This is the moment when I realised how fortunate I am. I was paddling into the sunset. The sea had an atmosphere. I was heading into an iconic location. The time was incredible. And at that point I started to think, what else could one wish for. Then I realised, it was to be able to share this with your most closest and loved one. And here I was,  paddling into the sunset with my wife. kilda 16

IF YOU DON’T HAVE WHEELS, YOU MUST HAVE WHEELS

There are some pieces of equipment that a kayaker has to have with him or her all the time when going on a paddle. It’s the personal paddling kit and the safety kit, and then some other kit, especially if one is going on a multi day adventure. There are so many things to take and pack, that the boat just naturally becomes heavy. Something what may not be a problem on the water, but becomes a challenge on the land. For us definitely, as Natalie isn’t as strong as me, when lifting heavy boats, and with the fact that her back is already injured, getting boats in and out of water has been an important part of our planning.    
Normally we use a plastic pipe to drag boats over out of water on rocks, small foldaway trolley, and IKEA bags to move stuff around. So this is what we packed this time. However when we were getting ready in Glenuig we were convinced by Steve to swap our two trusted pairs of Eckla trolleys for one Kayak Carrier System trolley. At the beginning we were very hesitant as the wheels were huge off road monsters and the trolley disassembled into more pieces than what we were used to. Compare to our previous arrangements, when we just had wheels in a bag behind Natalie’s foot pegs and frame on deck, we had a bag with wheels, a bar on deck and three flat pieces in the hatch.  

 However soon we became to love the trolley. The size of the wheels allowed for the heavy loaded boat to be wheeled across all different surfaces. If on previous trips stoney beaches were a no go, this time we could just run over small boulders like in a off roader. And we were well impressed when the trolley coped with deep seaweed. If on previous trips we would get punctures on the small wheels, these huge ones were just fine.  

   
Half way through the trip we were in love with our new trolley. In Balranald campsite we were so high, that we wheeled the loaded boats from the beach via the sandy slip way all the way to the tent, about a kilometre away. Because like everyone there in the caravan park we wanted to have our wheels next to our temporary home, too. 
What we learnt was that despite this trolley looking huge at the first sight, it was only the size of the wheels which made difference when packing. Everything else was more or less the same to before. And as the hatches became emptier, we needn’t to disassemble the pieces that much. So now, that the trip is over and our borrowed pair would be going back to its owner, we will be getting it for ourselves.

Paddling in luxury 

Today, as we were sorting all of the stuff we brought with us for our trip, yet again I was amazed of what has been in my boat. I was amazed to such level, that I had to take two pictures.  

   First one is of all the electric gadgets we had in our kayaks and the other is of the repair kit. I know it is a lot, this is actually first time I have seen it all lined up together. I always knew the Pace Tour was probably the best kayak to carry all of our stuff on a longer trip. And this time I really became to appreciated it. We were constantly carrying all paddling and camping gear together with food for three weeks, yet I could still fit in all the stuff from those pictures in my kayak, and yes, I haven’t mentioned the books yet. 

Of course, there’s the question of why to carry so much. Well, the only answer I can give is, why not. It fits, and doesn’t compromise the kayak handling either. Pace can easily handle the load and more importantly still be fun to paddle. And you know what, I simply don’t believe that by making the time spent on and off the water harder or even miserable by leaving some of it behind, would make me paddle better, longer, further or harder. Not to mention the misery if something actually did break, but fortunately nothing ever had. 

WAITING GAMES

Today, after three days of sitting on the shore bound by winds, came a day, when we could go on the  water and paddle again. But where to? We could move slightly further north and round one or two corners before the wind strikes again but what would be gained from that? Nothing apart from a change in scenery. 
It is becoming more and more obvious that this trip is different to those we have done so far. Unlike previously, the main challenge is not to move further along the coast bit by bit to gain distance. In the same time, the most important set of skills is not about the ability to brace what sea would throw at us. At the moment it became apparent, that what we need to practise is patience and believe. Believe that the weather window will come, hopefully sooner rather than later, and patience to wait for it.

What we are living at the moment is far from the mainstream imaginations of experiences of hardy expedition kayakers. Not that we see ourselves as those anyway. Our days are filled with long sleeps, nice coffees, even better cakes, interesting books and windy walks with birdwatching. Hard? Easy? Well, like with everything else in life, it is as hard or easy, as one makes it.  

 

How to paddle around an island, and yet not to finish a circumnavigation 

Some time ago, I paddled around IOW in one go just to see, whether I can do it. Now, I felt it was time to try again, faster; or at least as fast as I could.  One thing that I remembered from last time was, that Needless are the place, where one can gain or loose a lot. 

Needless

Needless

With that on my mind I decided to take a gamble and to start the circumnavigation attempt from here. The advantage of this is, that  one can start when the flooding tide builds significantly and still have full ebbing flow on the way back. Of course there is a disadvantage, too. Nowhere to launch means that one has to paddle there first, and more importantly to paddle back from there to wherever the car is. This makes paddling day a bit longer. 

 My attempt started well, at 5am I launched from Hurst Spit across from New Lane having parked the night before, and paddled in leasury pace to Needless. After 40 minutes wait for the tide to get some speed, it was time to switch GPS and stopwatch on. Few hours in I realised that I have forgotten how it feels to paddle hard and of course started to question myself, why do I put myself through this. By Ventor I could feel something wrong with the rudder. Pin came loose which ment landing and putting it back in place. Maybe ten minutes lost? 

The only pleasure in Solent was that I could paddle faster into the increasing headwind than yachts could sail. At the end of the Solent with the changing conditions, it became obvious, that either  I’d overdone it and paddled too hard or skimming ceilings and walls for two weeks wasn’t the best training. Or maybe I am simply not as good as I would like to believe. Anyway, by Hurst Castle with 8:30 on stopwatch, I knew that although I could be by Needlees within half hour, I wasn’t  sure if I would be able to make it back. So I turned north and cut the circumnavigation short and paddled along Hurst Spit back to the car. 

It took me sometime while driving back to realise that although I did not paddle all the way back to starting point I actually paddled full circle around IOW. And it did not take that long as I though, 10:20 give or take few minutes.      

Northern Four

Logo NORTHERN FOUREver since we came back from our homeSEAhome trip people around kept asking “what’s next?” While it was great to be somewhere on a journey, in reality, everyday live is there with hundreds of other things that take priority for while. Yet, the temptation is always present. There and now we were talking about a new trip, about islands closer or more distant.

While talking about our possibilities, there was one memory popping back to my mind. Memory of the special moment, when we stud by Cape Wrath lighthouse on an absolutely calm and clear day. A moment when on the horizon  we were just able to make  out the Butt of Lewis, North Rona, Sule Skerry and Orkney, all at the same time. I remember thinking that one day I wanted to paddle there. Once we add Natalie’s love to go to places one can see barely or not at all, the idea of the next trip was born.

Plan for the Northern Four is quite simple. We will start on the west coast of Scotland at the beginning of May and paddle to four different islands: St. Kilda, Flannan Isles, North Rona and Sule Skerry. The most difficult part of the trip is done, decision has been made and the date was set. What’s left now, is just an endless list of smaller and bigger tasks to do.