MICHAL’S TRIP TO ALASKA PART II.

MUSICAL CROSSING          Sunday 01.07.18

Morning was gorgeous, sunshine, no wind. Tina cooked lovely blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I had three, Freya none, as she cannot eat anything but her oats for breakfast because that’s best for her paddling performance. Or something like that.

After that we set off. First, we were following the coast, we could see otters, white head eagle and arctic fox. Wind picked up a little bit from behind, and we were making nice progress to the beach with petrified trees. Huge lumps of stone wood were laying between boulders with occasional tree stump. We landed and soon were running around taking pictures and calling: ”look, this one, and look there, here…”

Eventually it was time to move on, 40 km crossing was waiting for us. And, as always, when we were about to cross, the wind direction changed. Now we were facing the headwind.

“Would you mind if I listen to music? We have to paddle hard” asked Freya. It was fine with me.

We started to push our way into the wind and the only thing I could hear was noise. Like when you are on London bus with teenagers trying to listen to the latest music on their phones but you can really only hear the bus engine, doors opening and closing, people talking and cars outside speeding. Here, Freya had her phone out packed in Aquapack, with wave hitting our boats, wind whistling and paddles splashing. One thing I didn’t know was that Freya likes to sing. The good thing is, she is better singer than me, just.

scenery

Few hours in, and I started to hope that her phone would die soon. It did, but knowing Freya I should have known that she would have a spare phone battery ready. It took her lest then half a minute to get music on again. Ok, I shouldn’t complain and I’m not complaining, it is more of a fascinating observation. Unlike those teenagers she asked first if I minded. It’s just surprising to see that someone needs to listen to music because open crossing is boring. There was so much to see on this one. Sky was clear, visibility perfect and amazing Alaskan landscape all around us. Rocky islands ahead and behind, mountains on the right dominated by two huge volcanos covered with snow. There were birds, two whales, ferry and a tug pulling a barge. I could go on and on.

At nine in the evening we landed on small sandy beach. There were footprints everywhere. Fox, birds and cows footprints. If there are cows on this island, then there won’t be bears, we decided. It makes cooking and sorting food so much easier. Let’s see if we are right in our assumption.

cow prints

Monday 02.07.18

Sun has woken us up. It was lovely morning with beautiful view of Pavlov volcano. We didn’t have any visitors all nigh, that was good.

scebery by M

We started to paddle along the coast again, Freya kept very close to the shore and was watching all sorts of seaweed under her hull. I didn’t mind, we could afford to have slower start, we did 65km yesterday and there was tail wind on the forecast for later today. I was watching shore rather than seabed. It looked almost like British coastline. It was rocky with green meadows on sloping hillside. There and now there was a herd of cows with an occasional bull among them.

cows

We came to the corner and it was time to cross fifteen kilometres to the next island. Wind slowly picking up only it was straight into our faces again!

We were trying to get into good paddling routine but it was proving to be quite challenging after hard yesterday’s paddle. I eventually started getting reasonable paddling pace but Freya was staying behind. I had to constantly slow down and wait. Almost every time I looked over my shoulder I could see Freya looking down on her deck and GPS. And every time her head went down her paddle stroke changed, cadence increased but blades were hardly touching water. It reminded me of Wendy a lot (sorry Wendy). It was draining!

After what felt like ages we made it to the first island. There was nice little beach just on the corner, perfect spot for lunch. While we were eating Freya was complaining that she was really tired and that she was falling asleep while paddling. True, she felt asleep straight after we finished eating. I let her sleep for 15mins and woke her up just when the incoming water touched our kayaks.

It was obvious we will call it a short today. And yes, after another ten kilometres beach appeared on our right. We quickly agreed this was our destination for today. Shingle was quite steep with dumping surf but I managed to time my landing perfectly. Freya wasn’t as lucky, went fraction of the second too early and caught the wave rather then staying right behind it. She leaned far back in an attempt to release bow from the water. Bang, bang, bang, nose of the kayak was hitting stones and then broached sideways. Fortunately both kayak and Freya survived without any damage.

At the first glance we could not spot any sights of bear activity. It looked promising to be a bear free island. It didn’t last long. When I went to get some water from the stream in the corner of the beach I crossed several holes dug in the seaweed and shingle with poo pile next to it. They are here!

IMG_7676Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

Forecast for tomorrow is strong wind and rain, if it’s from the right direction we might be able to make some progress. Otherwise we will be stuck here for a day or two.

REST DAY     Tuesday 3.07.18

Today we had a day off. Rain was hitting our tent quite hard driven by strong wind gusts. So we slept till ten. Then I had to go out to dig breakfast out of the kayak and put some more boulders on our tent pegs as they came loose in the wind. Then we slept for few more hours. Obviously we needed some good rest. By two in the afternoon rain was gone and wind calmed down significantly. It would be good weather to go but we are on the island. Distance we could make today was either fifteen or forty kilometres. First option was not worth of the hassle of packing everything wet, second option meant we would be finishing too late not giving us enough time to set off at reasonable time tomorrow. We rather stayed in the tent and read some books and watched Kayaking Aleutians on Freya’s computer. Apparently this is a must do on stormy rest day. After was time for yet more reading and sleeping. Tomorrow we would like to start quite early.

green meadowPhoto by Freya Hoffmeister

FOG     Wednesday 04.07.18

Sea was quite flat when we left. There were sea otters in the bay but didn’t wait long enough for us to come close to take good photo.

We went around the corner and could just see the next island to which we were heading under low laying clouds. While we were crossing, the fog descended on us and visibility dropped to few hundred meters. I struggled a bit to get into paddling properly and was really glad when we made it to the island after first fifteen kilometres. Luckily, we had short break on the water with some snacks. When we started with the next crossing, I felt much better, so we could  push it quite hard. Visibility was quite poor ranging between few hundred meters to couple of kilometres. At same point Freya was saying that the numbers on her GPS were her only joy on such a crossing. At that point I could suddenly hear a wave rolling on our right, I looked there but was unable to see anything at first. Then a whale appeared. It didn’t look too big but I got my camera ready. It came up twice more before diving. As it started to disappear her tail swung high in the air.  Humpack whale! My first one ever!

whale M

We continued paddling and could see whale tail in the air twice more. The fog thickened, and soon we couldn’t see anything but could hear monsters breathing all around us. It was quite surreal.

Fortunately after sometime the fog lifted and we our island came into view. We were going quite fast averaging 6.4kph including our breaks. Then suddenly plop! My right foot on the rudder went all the way forward “Shit, something in the rudder gave up” I thought.

Freya started to unscrew rudder cover at the stern to find out what was wrong while I watched whales. I could see two tails in the air before Freya announced that the rudder string came off and the best thing now was to disable the rudder and sort it out after we land. Some boats without rudder are worst than others. We had ten long kilometres to our landing spot left. Fortunately the whales continued in their show. At least five of them were sticking their tails high in the air. We were counting, five, six, seven, sixteen… We decided to stop at twenty. They last trick in the performance was to swing three tails high in the air simultaneously!

Finally we landed, pitched our tent and fixed my rudder. After that we went for a stroll around and across spit we camped on. No signs of bears around but found a dead Sea Lion in the corner of the beach. It was huge male beast. It looked like it died pretty recently and almost didn’t smell. Freya, of course, decided it was time for photo shoot and almost managed to kiss this thing. It looks like she wants to kiss all death sea creatures we would come across.

fox

When I cooked dinner we had a visitor, fox came to see what’s in the pot and it took some stone throwing to scare it away.

Thursday 05.07.18

We camped on Dear Island. That may be a reason why no bear showed up.

Morning was really grey, with  sun promised in the forecast. We went on the water and went around the spit, on the corner, the wind hit us straight into our faces. It was funnelling from the north through Cold Bay straight towards us. Solid F5. With seventeen kilometres crossing ahead of us, it didn’t look pretty. Freya later called it nasty but I wouldn’t go that far. We pushed hard and the shore across the bay was eventually getting closer. When we finally made it across, we could find a little bit of shelter behind the headland. That was nice. We followed low muddy cliffs, almost like in Lincolnshire, with some rocky reefs running far into the sea. There was an open bay ahead, where we decided to stop for lunch, it turned out to have only two drawbacks, we had to push into the wind again, and it was really shallow. We had some wraps with tuna and rushed back on water as tide was running out, still we had to drag our kayaks for a couple of hundred meters before we had enough water under our hulls.

sand dunes

Paddling across the bay was lovely, we had a side wind at first but it changed soon to tail wind and we could surf nicely on following sea. We could if we wanted to, I had few runs but Freya indicated that she ate too much and it wasn’t not worth the effort. Ok, never mind, we had wind behind us and plenty of time.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the wind changed, one second we had nice tailwind, the next it was blowing straight into our faces. We started to follow the coast closely to seek some protection, it didn’t work particularly well,  and there was lots of kelp close to shore too. So we split, Freya stayed close in and I went far out. After a while Freya was indicating that her sciatic nerve was playing up and there was a bay with a calling name ahead, Sandy Cove. Ok, why not, it looked nice so we finished a bit early again. Now, we were camping on sand dunes wondering, as always, if there were bears around.

What a day!    Friday 06.04.18

Yesterday, we discussed a number of times, how to approach the False Pass. It was obvious that the tide through the pass runs quite fast but we were not sure what time it was running which way. We came to conclusion that slack might be at 1pm and tide would be in our favour before that. We thought we might start paddling around 6am to be able to make it on time but somehow overslept.

When we hit the water it was perfectly still and sunny. “Ok, let’s paddle hard and see if we can still make it on time,” we agreed.

Freya switched on the music on her phone again to get into the rhythm. I say music; it was some strange combination of styles, Scottish, classical, gothic and modern. At one point it sounded like a busy train station. Trains were braking with sharp long metal squeaks, people were talking some were very cheerful to meet their friends, some were crying as their relatives were leaving. Freight train was rattling over the points and conductor was using his whistle. Then someone fell under the train and woman started to cry hysterically. Anyway, it made us going.

Slowly some fog banks rolled in. Sometime we could see landscape around us just below, and sometime above the fog. On few occasions it was visible below and above at the same time.

fog

Then one of the fog banks hit us. It came with wind, first we could see some small ripples on the water which slowly increased do solid F4. We were still pushing hard. I mean really hard. If I should describe it in one word, it was brutal. We were not racing, we were paddling side by side and none of us wanted to be slower than the other person. There was a mantra going through my head “I won’t drop back. Let’s make it count, every stroke must count!”. When we finally got to the entrance to the pass, some 35km later, our average speed was 7.4kph and that includes snack and pee breaks and headwind.

Last headland was the windiest, probably F5 but, when we turned the corner bang on slack, we had it behind is. Now we were gliding towards the town, rain came but we didn’t care. We knew we were going to make it. Did you ever noticed that rain water doesn’t mix with sea water? If it’s not raining hard, small drops of rain water float on the surface of the sea like thousands of small pearls.

False Pass M?

 

We paddled to the harbour in False Pass, asked the first person which were the Trident facilities. He pointed us the right way and called Dean (who is in charge) on radio.  In half an hour we had our kayaks moved to safety, and were in warm shower. Now, we are relaxing in our beds while our laundry is being done and dinner cooked.

False pass M?1

Once again, same as in Chignik, we are hosted by Trident Seafood. This place seems to be much busier than the previous one. People everywhere, dining area is still full of people eating, two hours after they started serving. It is also truly international place, people of all backgrounds here, hispanic, tiny asian laddies, huge black guys you don’t want to cross, Eastern Europeans, yet the most common language here is not English. Most people in corridors, dining place or outside are chatting in Russian.

FALSE PASS   Saturday 07.07.18

Last night wasn’t particularly pleasant. It was noisy here. Site has been working all night, forklifts were going back and forward, diesel generators were constantly humming. There is a loud extractor fan from the bathroom in our adjoined wall as I found in the early morning hours, when I managed to disconnect its power supply. And it seems like the best WIFI spot is just outside of our bedroom door as people were gathering there all night with their smartphones in their hands. They tried to be quiet but as you know, group of people standing and waiting somewhere is never entirely quiet. And all of those people standing in the corridor were waiting. Waiting for internet to do something. I have to admire their patience as it seemed to do nothing. I mean we have been checking, not on them standing there, but on the internet. Whenever we woke up we tried to go online and as you know it is bit like an addiction. We haven’t been online for week and suddenly there was a prospect of internet. So we were checking it almost every hour, nothing and nothing. Twice I went to the bathroom next door and number of people standing outside of our door seemed to be constant. Then around four in the morning I managed to send a message, wow.

false pass.jpg

 

Obviously we haven’t slept well.

During a day we visited Trident office and learned that our best chance to go online would be in community hall on Monday. We were lent a pair of brown alaskan wellies each! Amazing, we can now actually walk around as it all looks like big building site in the rain. Mud is everywhere. I don’t know how those ladies manage to keep our building clean, they are out with mops and brooms a lot. Almost nonstop.

Later we paid a visit to the shop, bought some fresh fruit, supplies boat arrived yesterday, and Freya got phone which should work on local network. This network is supposed to be the most common one in small places around the coast further on. We spent an hour playing with it and trying to set up access to her email account on it without much success. Because guy working in the shop was quite helpful before, we decided to go there and seek his advice. He wasn’t there. We chatted with the lady behind the counter, and although she didn’t know how to set it up, she decided after hearing our story about paddling around the coast, to help us. She shared a big secret with us and we promised not to tell anyone. So here it is. She worked in local community centre too, as they are short of staff, and she wrote their WIFI password on a piece of paper for us.

So now we finally gained an online access, it’s fifteen minutes down the road but it works. We tried it successfully today. Hopefully it will work tomorrow too, so I can speak to Natalie.

False Pass Day 2  Sunday 08.07.18

After having breakfast we were wondering why we do actually have a day off. Sun was out and the weather looked very peaceful. When we stepped outside, we realised how deceptive it can be, when one is inside solid building. It was sunny, that’s right but it was also windy. Water in the pass was white with white horses rushing from south to north.

We took a walk to community centre to secretly use more WIFI. We do make attempts to disguise our aim by positioning ourselves in front of the liquor shop to pretend we are waiting for it to open. It seemed to work as a group of guys came to ask us, if they should join the queue. I finally managed to talk to Natalie and as we were about to finish a very strict lady from community centre arrived. We pretended to be on the phone and slowly walked up the road through the village. It is interesting to see all of the things just laying around. Cars, bikes, fuel tanks, ambulances, heavy machinery, old and new. We were told that  about sixty people live here permanently he. We have seen the same number of cars which looked like they were in working order and probably more of those, that will never hit the road again. Well, talking about the road, there are about two or three miles of dirt road here. No asphalt, no concrete, no paving.

After lunch we went to Trident office to borrow their laptop to do some planning for our next paddling leg. We could access the weather and google maps, combination of which kept us busy for a while. Our next section looks like endless surf beach and forecast was promising occasional combination of strong wind (F8) and seas up to three metres high. Anyway we may get a chance to make some progress on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I decided to go for internet stroll before dinner. I still felt quite full from eating too much at midday. Food here is simply delicious, choices great and supply is endless. We are slowly learning how not to put too much on our plates. As I turned to walk back a car stopped and I was offered a lift back. I climbed in, and  immediately started to wonder if it was a good idea. Driver was friendly but there was half empty bottle of vodka next to him. It was apparent that he was the cause of it not being full. Fortunately nobody drives fast here, and Bill, although drunk, wasn’t an exemption. As we were crawling forward being barely faster then walking I was offered weed which I refused, and lager which I accepted. It was american Budweiser so it was purely on the bases of being polite. While we were drinking, and Bill driving, he was sharing with me all the less orthodox crafts he ever saw going through the False Pass. Kayaks, fancy yachts, racing yachts, jet skies, just name it, Bill had seen it all. Then we got to the Trident and I could get out. On my exiting his car, he was lightning something what could be a cigarette, Bill told me with excitement that he was going to get drunk with his mate Mike. I wonder if Mike was also already riding around the town not to be behind when they meet.

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MICHAL’S TRIP TO ALASKA

Unlike previous sports we both have engaged in, when it came to sea kayaking, Michal and I started to do this together from the same starting line. However, it soon became clear that our ways of learning differ. Michal is much better at learning anything about movements, he can only hear about it, or see it, picture it, which leads to him being able to do it. Obviously most annoyingly for me I need to do all these three, then practice for long time, and then, maybe, I would get it.

We have shared stories from our trips together here on the blog, we have done journeys shorter and longer. Thank to Michal’s constant need to look for challenges, to get excited about an idea,  his strong desire to execute it, it meant that we have spent significant time paddling in various environments and conditions.

This time, it happened that we took different approach. I thought it would be great idea to join someone else in their trip, and somehow, both me and Freya thought it would be even better idea, if Michal does so, too.

So there he is, paddling in Alaska with Freya Hoffmeister on a trip different to our usual ones. And here are the notes that he managed to send me from different legs as their internet access allowed.

Michal left London on the 21st of June and he and Freya met in Chignik, a little place, where she finished her previous leg with Catriona Woods.

flight

Over to Michal:

ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS THE SAME EVERYWHERE, RIGHT? Saturday 23.06.18

chignik airport

“Today’s highlight was a bit of a language barrier. Freya was worried she would not find the right gas canisters for her stove here in Chignik, so she asked me to bring my multi fuel one.

We were very lucky and were looked after by locals, Clyde, who runs Trident Seafood was really helpful the whole day, trying to source out everything we needed prior our departure, including the epoxy to fix both of Freya’s kayaks.

However, when it came to fuel, everyone seamed to be quite confused.“Petrol? What do you mean? What’s that? Fuel, what fuel? Do you mean kerosine?” After a while we established that cars use diesel and gas. So we asked if it would be possible to have some gas.

It turned out we could, but not before we were told how flammable it really is, and how careful we needed to be. So I brought my petrol bottles and started to fill up the first one from metal canister Clyde showed me.  Lupe came to assist, and  again, while he was helping me with filling of our bottles,  we went through a long discussion about how dangerous and flammable this stuff was. In the end I had to agree to try if it actually worked with our stove. Before I got on with it, I was pointed to fire extinguisher. After that, as a precaution,  I boiled some water for my flask in the middle of gravel car park,  and surprisingly it worked fine like with any other petrol before.

ALASKA IN A NUTSHELL Sunday 24.06.18

Finally, it was time to leave. Boats were packed and floating on incoming tide. I was waiting for Freya to come. She went to make one more attempt to order epoxy resin to be sent ahead to Sand Point, our next port of call. Again with not much success. As soon as I arrived, we had kayak fixing day and used almost all remaining epoxy. Hope these kayaks wont need TLC too often.

Ready at last, I went to afloat first to make sure the kayak was to set up well for the journey ahead. I am using one of Freya’s kayaks, which is quite different to mine. Fortunately, everything was fine, and we could finally set off. After few paddling strokes I noticed something strange floating in front of us, sea otter! We haven’t even left Chignik and here was a Sea Otter. What a start!

sea otter.jpg

First few kilometres took us along cliffs on flat sea, and soon we started to cross Castle Bay, then we noticed spray of water in the distance. It was coming closer and a whale resurfaced. We haven’t even done ten kilometres and already I saw a number of sea otters and a whale, amazing.

We turned around Castel Rock, a stunning headland, I haven’t seen such overwhelming formation for ages, so we admired rocky structures, towers, gullies and faces until the  headwind picked up. Fortunately we could see a sandy beach ahead landed for lunch. This was my first introduction to what is means kayaking in bear territory.  Bear footprints everywhere and an old fridge washed on the beach was completely trashed by presumingly bear claws and paws. Fortunately, no bear in sight, otherwise I could say: “I’ve seen it all” and go home, now.

Soon after lunch headwind increased significantly and it was time we started to look for landing place. First beach didn’t look to good, yet Freya insisted it would be fine. We landed but it turned out, there was no space for  tent, we had to push another 7km to the next beach called Necessity Cove. Landing through damper went smoothly and soon we had the tent up on a stoney beach. One thing that I will have to get used to, is cooking outside. Apparently it is not a good idea to cook in your tent if there are bears around.

bear hand

GETTING TO KNOW MY NEW KAYAK   Monday 25.06.18

I woke up in the morning and first thing I heard was: “It’s raining, what do you think? Would you mind if we have a day off?” I don’t like rain so the answer was easy. “Ok,” I said and continued sleeping. Few hours later I could hear: “It’s not too bad shall we go?” What could I say, we are here to paddle in the end. One hour later we were on the water and paddling. While launching I was introduced to how to use a launching string. I never needed one on my kayak but seems quite essential to use with the rudder on Freya’s kayak. Anyway, soon we were making nice progress along the coast. It wasn’t raining too much, visibility was ok, just top of the cliffs were hidden in low laying clouds. As we were nearing big headland wind started to pick up and waves were getting increasingly bigger. Soon we hit area where the tide, swell and wind were all coming from different directions. Clapoties were reaching two meters and Freya put her buoyancy aid on. It was challenging paddle as I was still getting to know my kayak. Paddling with knees together like on the surfski in those conditions was quite new to me. We turned a corner and decided to head for the beach deeper in the bay rather than crossing and rounding another headland. We had lovely 40 mins run on following sea all the way to the beach. Well, it was rather bouldery wall with no place for camping. We tried hard. But no place for tent at all. It meant we had to go around the next headland and firstly into the wind. Luckily, in the end, it wasn’t that bad. Tide probably turned, sea became more regular. After we turned the corner it was decision time, which beach to head for? We chose place called Herring Lagoon as something containing a word lagoon in the name must be good place for landing, only, it meant another 12km crossing into the fog.

Eventually we reached steep stoney wall, damper wasn’t too horrible and we landed safely. After climbing to the top of the bouldery wall, on the other side of the spite, we could see why it’s called Lagoon. We didn’t cook dinner this time, Natchos and cheese dip were good enough. I almost feltasleep even before finishing eating.

ANOTHER FIRST – PADDLING WITH MUSIC      Tuesday 26.06.18

It was raining again. Everything was wet. But with the forecast for light following sea we had to go. I’m slowly learning what it means to pack quickly. First everything is packed in the tent, then getting changed to paddling gear, tent down, kayaks packed, and then finally, some oats with milk for breakfast while watching dumping surf.

Sea today was significantly smaller, it was still raining most off the day with no great visibility. Soon we started our first 14 km crossing of the day, Freya couldn’t find her paddling rhythm, which made her to switch her music on. With rain hitting my hat I couldn’t hear that much anyway. Suddenly there was big splash just next to me, a whale, only ten meters away! It came up once more and then disappeared. “You see!” said Freya “I told you. They like music.”

whale freya

Now we were paddling in St Kilda like landscape, huge headlands and islands with birds everywhere. Only difference were local puffins they have long white hair on the top of their heads. I hope I managed to take good enough photo. Soon we landed on small rocky beach on one of the islands, rest of the island looks really steep, like St Kilda, so we hope it’s bear free. We set our camp in heavy rain and decided to chance it and cook in the tent.

EATING FRUIT WHILE PADDLING? Another first     Wednesday 27.06.18

It wasn’t raining when we woke up. That was promising. When I got out of the tent I could see that we are on small island just across from Perryville. It didn’t look like much, just few buildings scattered around so we didn’t bother to paddle there.

Before we set off, we had to set time aside to prepare pineapples, yes we had two fresh pineapples with us. Mine was living in my helmet for three days. Now it was time to eat them. Freya cut them to stripes and filled few zip lock bags to be ready to eat on the water. pineapples

Few minutes into paddling the sun came out. As it shined through the clouds behind us sunlight just hitting a rock ahead, we could see an eagle siting on the top. My first eagle on this trip. Sun didn’t last long but eagles did. By the end of the day we saw six of them.

sea eagel

Soon it was drizzling and headwind became quite annoying. We were making progress between islands eating pineapples. When that wasn’t filling us enough we stopped on small sandy beach for lunch. There were bear and human footprints everywhere, we were not sure which were older and which more recent. Freya found round fishing buoy and we spent few minutes playing football to keep warm. In the afternoon we continued into the rain and wind.

football

I wouldn’t mind if we had a dry day for a change sometime soon. Beach, where we were planning to land, had noticeable surf. Fortunately we found a sheltered corner. And again bear footprints were everywhere. We pitched tent on the highest spot of the sand while it was still raining. There were patches of green plants around, I tor off some and placed them in the porch of the tent to reduce the amount of sand sticking to everything. Then it came: “You are very tidy, not messy at all. If you wouldn’t be married already, I would marry you!”

clean tent M      clean tent F

ANIMALS EVERYWHERE       Thursday 28.06. 18

It was raining hard all night.

Did I mention that I don’t like water? And rain is the worst kind of water. So you can imagine I wasn’t overwhelmingly enthusiastic to get ready. Fortunately as we started to pack, the rain almost stopped.

In Freya’s chart it said “large caves” by the headland in few kilometres. We were quite keen to see what it means. Two sea stacks could be seen just of the headland, when we rounded the second one, one its exposed side, we could see lots of holes and caves. It looked like Swiss cheese. We explored the biggest one, unfortunately due to the swell, we couldn’t visit any of the smaller ones.

Next, we had to cross a larger bay, about ten kilometres into the headwind. There is one thing that annoyed me today. Freya asked if we should cross straight for the headland, or if we should go deeper in, and stop on the beach. In the end we agreed to only have a break on water and not to bother with landing. Yet, when we crossed, Freya said: “I fancy to land on that beach, it’s not too far anyway “. Fine! – We had to paddle ten minutes into the wind to get to the beach and then paddle the same back after the break. Why could we just not paddle straight there, right from the beginning?

Anyway, when we rounded rocky headland there were dozens of Sea Lions on rocky ledges. Mostly female, roughly the size of ordinary seal, with one male between them. It was huge! At least twice the size of big Atlantic Grey Seal.

michal by freya.jpgPhoto by Freya Hoffmeister

sea lions freyaAfter that we were paddling along the cliffs into the wind when Freya found a puffin. I mean there was a dead puffin in the water. The next second she was pulling it out with huge smile: “we need to take pictures “. She was shouting in the noise of wind and waves.

That’s not as simple as it looks. “Should I be kissing it? Or should it be on my shoulder? Do I look good? What about my hair? And hair band? I don’t like this hair band, it’s not black. Maybe we should take some on the beach, on the tent. I need to hold it this way. Do I look good?” This all was probably meant to me. And then she goes to puffin:”You will go on my website, you will be famous. Fifteen thousand people will see you…”

puffin 1   puffin 2

puffin 4  puffin 3After long photoshoot she paddled with the puffin all the way to the beach, put the tent up and did more photos with poor puffin. Who cares that there are bears around. I mean there are not just bear footprints on this beach, there is actually a bear walking up and down the same beach we are camping!

This time I cooked dinner outside, just in case. After we had eaten, I started to write down notes. When I finished writing and put my iPad down, I looked out through the open tent porch. Bear! There was a bear standing 20 meters from our tent! Of course, first we started to take pictures, but then as it was still coming closer, we began to make noise. Bear didn’t seem to mind, so I shot a banger.  Freya half jumped out of the tent shouting at the same time. That scared him, I mean Freya, he hardly noticed the bang! Hope that was enough of bear excitement for the rest of the trip.

bear in camp

banger

TACKLING MONSTERS        Friday 29.06. 18

We woke up into a drizzle. First thing Freya asked was: “Did you sleep well? No dreams about bears?” No, weirdly there were strange monkeys in my dream but not a single bear.

Launching was pretty straightforward, swell dropped a lot as predicted and we started paddling on almost flat sea. That was good because we were heading for Sand Point, which was over 60km away with 40km crossing to start with. Clouds were slowly lifting and we were chatting about kayak designs, forward paddling, and so on. Then a whale resurfaced just in front of us. It took ages before it started to go down giving me plenty of time to find my camera and take two pictures before it disappeared.

Slowly sun made it through the clouds and I realised that I was over dressed. Fortunately sea was like a mirror allowing me to take one layer off. It is actually quite fine to try to take drysuit with front entry off while siting in kayak. It took quite an effort to pull it over my head.

I think I mentioned before that Freya is paddling topless most of the time. I mean without PFD, she calls it topless paddling. And of course she believes this is best and most efficient way how to  paddle forward properly. PFD is too restrictive and you cannot rotate with one well enough, so it means your paddling is not good. And of course, if Freya believes in something, you hear about it, not all the time, just there and now, about five times a day, every day.

So, as I had my BA off I decided it was time to make her happy, and not to put it on again. I even called my PFD a monster when asked her to put it on my back deck. That made her day, I think.

Michal paddling by FPhoto by Freya Hoffmeister

We were making nice progress towards the first island insight with brief stops for snacks. Soon, we came across lovely landing spot with waterfall which was ideal for short pee brake. When we started to paddle again, headwind picked up, not too strong but annoying. For some reason Freya became slower and slower. Waiting for her to catch up was a bit irritating. At one moment, when she got next to me, she asked me to put my PFD back on again, apparently I’m too fast without one.

When we turned the corner and could almost see Sand Point, we spotted  a small boat on the horizon. It looked strange, definitely not like fishing boat. When it came close we waved and it turned and came all the way to us. It was actually a welcoming committee looking for us.

committee

They were really pleased to find us, gave us some fruity drinks, took some photos, had a chat and took off towards Sand Point to announce what time we would be there.

Last stretch was slow and took forever, we were paddling into the wind and sun. Eventually were made it to Sand Point.

sand point

Tina, Paul and few of their friends were waiting for us. Tina’s house is just by the water so it was fast to unload. We were taken full care off. Shower, washing machine, dinner, internet and even a beer for me.

kayak TLC

REST DAY   Saturday 30.06.18

Last night I managed to put my first post on FB. Internet is not fast here, it took ages to upload few photos. Then, I exchanged few messages with Natalie before falling asleep by midnight.

This morning we started with some kayak TLC. First we fully unpacked them and dried them as much as possible and left them in the sun. You see, we have a day off and it is sunny! Then we made it to Trident Shop to buy some epoxy. In between I even managed to talk to Natalie, internet is not that slow in the end.

Afternoon was all about sorting our food, shopping for more food, working on kayaks and trying to find some local contacts further along the coast, in Nelson Lagoon or Port Heiden ideally. Those might be crucial as most likely I would have to fly out from one of those, and if all goes well Natalie will have to fly in.

Then we were getting ready for dinner with glass of wine and beer respectively.

Tomorrow’s forecast looks great so we will be paddling.

HOW I BECAME AN ADVENTURER

With Michal gone, there’s no one left to drive the car but myself. Having had driving licence for 20 years, not driving really since we moved to London, makes me someone, for whom making car to leave a perfectly fine parking place is a rather uneasy task. However, needs must and errands had to be accomplished.

I planned this very carefully, selected the time and plotted the route. I took navigation and map with me, as one can never be too cautious about these. The destination was the whole 3.4miles away with a long dark tunnel in between. They say that with true adventures, it shouldn’t be just about the end goal, the journey should matter, too. However, were I was concerned, the end goal was the main reason I put the gear in one, indicated right, and pushed down on the gas.

I was off on my expedition, by definition a journey with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war. Yes, this felt like all of these options.

From previous long trips and holidays I remembered the feeling of butterflies in the stomach at the beginning of each trip, the uncertainty of how it all will be, the anxiety whether it was a right decision. And yes, approaching the four lanes roundabout, I had similar feeling of fight or flight moment. I also learnt that soon once the routine kicks in, the butterflies settle.

black-and-white-car-interior-gear-89693The Blackwall Tunnel, was a complete different matter. It reminded me of long open crossings. You know it will finish at some point, you know you will eventually reach the land, you know, you just need to get on with it, stroke after stroke to get there. The relief, when a land is spotted, when it becomes clear that the calculations were correct, and that indeed, it would be accomplished at some point, was comparable to finally seeing the light at the end. Only then, did I realise I was holding my breath, and let go. There, who was I to self limit myself, to think I could not get to the south side of the river by other means than kayak, bike or public transport.

A short feeling of victory was replaced by the realisation, that soon, the car would have to be parked. And that is an issue.

As a true explorer, I planned wisely, and chose the earliest possible time as soon as the opening hours allowed. Yet it took several minutes to choose a place from which one can leave without reversing, park without reversing, and without the need to be too close to any other cars. As I circled the car park for the second time I could just see myself circumnavigating an island looking for the best or rather only available place, where to land and stay for a night after a long long day. Only to realise it to be the same place first dismissed in the hope of finding a more suitable one. Never mind.

I run my errand, filled the boot, and felt positively empowered for the way back. What an amazing, unusual, exciting and without a doubt daring experience – a true adventure.

 

London has it all!

We’ve lived in London for many years now. When we moved here, we knew we were moving into the capital city and a very busy town with people, roads, tube, buildings, pavements and all. We also knew that London was on the river Thames, however, at that time, it didn’t have any significant meaning to us, because after all most capital cities we knew had a river, Paris with Seine, Prague has Vltava, no big deal at all.

It was only later, when the river became our almost second home, we understood its the importance in the past and nowadays. Then, one day, we realised something even more significant. London isn’t just an ordinary capital city of a country; London could be viewed as a Mecca for outdoor sport, or at least where water is considered.

For a sea kayaker the tidal river Thames is a great place to paddle, we wrote about this many times. The changing landscape due to tide, standing waves under bridges, surf behind boats, powerful workout against tide, and smooth rides with it, we have spent countless hours going up and down through London. It is always different and we can’t have enough. With the conditions varying from mirror flat to wild fast flowing and confused water with waves exceeding meter in high it is an amazing place to learn and improve. Learning is an interesting and complex process. There and now it is important to change ones’ approach and try something new, something different. In the end what could be better than trying and applying the existing skills through different concepts of paddling to explore new levels and then bring this back to the original discipline.

So what role does London play in all this? It is the choice of opportunities. The possibility to do white water canoeing, flatwater freestyle, tiderace paddling or playboating within few days and in close proximity to London.

P6260037P6260042White water OC in Lee Valley. 

13558787_10209965853292395_1197877465244621623_oP6280084 (1)Free style boaters at Shadwell Basin.

13603400_10209998273702885_6307197631366317922_o13528227_10209998275502930_5332193559667065624_oSelsey Bill tide race (2 hours from London)

_DSC0037_DSC0078Olympic course in Lee Valley. 

Last week, there could have been hardly a be better place to work on your paddling.

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.      

Eddystone Challenge

It was during the quiet months of the winter when Natalie noticed that the Eddystone Challenge was going to go ahead once again after a few years gap. For some reason she finds paddling out into the open sea exciting and tempting, and decided to sign us up. And of course, it had to be done as soon as the booking opened. So when we received an email saying, we were the first ones, we thought: great!. However in the same email we were surprised to read that unlike all the other crafts, single sea kayakers must have buddies. Which was fine by us, until we read that we had to paddle together.

Here, we had to admit to our selves,  that this idea made us feel quite uneasy. After years of paddling together, we couldn’t see how paddling together to a lighthouse would differ from our everyday paddling together, and where would the challenge be.

Of course, it didn’t take Natalie long to sort this out. While she ditched me completely and told me to sort my own buddy on the day, she asked Esther, her friend from a club, to join to form a  girls team. I’ve been considering options of how to paddle independently and not to be disqualified, especially after Paul from Seaborne offered to lend me a Pace 18.

Ready for Race

Ready for Race

Weeks and days prior the “Challenge” went as expected, they were filled with attempts to train (some more or less successful), and planing which cars and boats are going to be used, especially after Alastair decided to join us, too. Everything went well until Thursday early morning, when my tooth decided to wake me up. So, instead of focusing on upcoming paddling, I spent the time between swallowing painkillers and attempts to get dentist appointment. On Friday I was lucky, the painkillers in combination with the  antibiotics and a beer in the evening started to work.

On Saturday morning the Mount Batten pier was lively  with gigs, kayaks, ocean canoes, surf skis, rowing boats of all sorts and their crews running around, getting themselves and their crafts ready for the inspection. At the pre “challenge” briefing at 11am organisers spilled the beans and told everyone that due to incoming weather it wasn’t  safe to go ahead with course all the way to Eddystone.  It was changed to an  alternative course in more sheltered water. Which was fine, until they said that due to  sea kayaks not being as  seaworthy as all the other crafts, they would follow a shorter, more sheltered course inside the breakwater, while the other crafts would go outside of it. I have to admit to feeling slightly insulted for a moment and almost handing back my identification bracelet and walking  away.  The only thing which stopped me, was, that at the same moment they got a phone call to  scrap longer variation and put us all on the same course.

At first the idea of the new course wasn’t very exciting, around 13nm zigzag with a loop inside the breakwater. On the other hand it had its advantage as well, as nobody no longer insisted on buddy system, and so everybody could push as hard as they wanted. And seeing different boats managing the conditions was quite interesting, too.

The first leg of the race took us to the east end of the breakwater and to my surprise I was keeping up with all other singles despite still familiarising with the Pace 18. Unfortunately as soon as we turned directly into the wind, it became clear that there are lots of guys much stronger then me. My only strategy was not to loose too much and hope that others wouldn’t last. Then, as we turned corner around the yacht Arabesque, the  headwind turned into tail wind. Even with much of the swell coming from the right side, I could soon start to appreciate the kayak I was sitting in. Wind across swell started to create small peaks which could be run; here the paddling turned into being quite technical. This worked to my advantage and  as  we were turning into the wind for the second lap, I managed to gain back most of what I had lost previously.

Next leg into the wind was almost a repetition of the previous one. Now, there were three kayaks in front of me, two skies and Nick in Taran, and this time, they started to push even harder. As we were turning around Arabesque for second time, I was third, loosing several hundreds meters on Nick and almost unable to see the first ski. At this point the winner was almost clear. The only question I was asking myself was, how much had Nick left in his tank and would there be enough bumps to surf to catch him before the finishing line?

It was incredible to see how the gap narrowed every time I got a wave, in the same time it was starting to be increasingly harder to catch one. It felt almost absurd in last few hundred yards of the race, but Nick and I were paddling side by side. There were perfectly surfable waves passing under my hull, yet I couldn’t get on them! My arms were shaking, I couldn’t do any acceleration strokes.  I don’t know if in the end I managed to convince myself to slow down and paddle more with the sea, or if it was just pure boat performance but somehow, I got few waves and crossed the line. I came in second place. Job well done.

eddystone 4 Tiderace Pace 18

Although I felt completely whipped out in the finish, it was strangely satisfying.

It was nice to see others as they crossed the line. It was great to see Natalie beating Alastair.  It was good to know that I gave it all in last the two and half hours.

 Tiderace Pace Tour  Tiderace Pace Tour eddystone 5

 

Maybe we should do this  more often.

 

XTRA Launch

I don’t know how those things happen. Or should I rather say that I don’t know how human mind, and more precisely, how my mind works.

There are moments when an idea appears in my head, almost like a picture. It stays there, and doesn’t want to leave. Sometimes if the idea is too stupid, I manage to force it out but most of the time the best way to deal with it, is to have a go.

Few weeks ago I could see this picture in my headxtra R

and I could not get it out…

So, why have you bought the boat then?

A question I was asked on the eve of the Oban Race around Kerrera. I’m getting to know the answer to the question, and may talk about it later. What I think should have been asked was: “So, why did you enter the race then?”

I am not a racer. Never was, although there was a history of competitive skiing. I didn’t mind the training but racing, boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like challenges, but ones where I compete with myself rather than others. Still, we were in the area and the race sounded interesting. I signed Michal in and if he was doing it, I wanted it, too.

However a little tiny glitch appeared rather soon. Because of the shape and measurements of my boat, it qualified into the racing category together with the surf skis, the performance boats and three other boats similar to mine.

Touring sea kayaks were starting 20 minutes ahead of us, so it was clear it would be a very solitary paddle round Kerrera. Sure, first five minutes and everybody just sped off. And the gap was getting bigger and bigger. At the first fish farm (6km in the race) the support boat had to wait more that five minutes for me to reach them after the second last one. “Serves you right, I thought, for putting me into the racing category. However I managed to settle into pace which I was never able to keep before (10 strokes max in the past) and at the first corner spotted the Tarran, again. One of the boats, I could compete with, since the paddler, despite being a man, had euro blades like me.
By the second corner he was behind me and once I rounded it, I saw new target, another Tarran. Another boat I could compete with, despite the paddler having wings, she was a woman. Finally, after 15 kilometres since the start I overtook this one, and few touring boats in the process, too.
Fantastic, I though, finally I won’t be the last one and I can have snack, since there was a worry on running out empty.
However one tiny surf ski appeared on the horizon. I did put up a fight at the end, but he reached the finish four seconds ahead of me.

So I won the racing category for women, being there only two of us. However overall I was fourth since all three women winners in touring category were faster than me. There is a little consolation that they actually do race and like it.

Why did I enter the race, then? I liked the challenge of paddling as me only, and needing to push myself. Kerrera proved to be a beautiful island. I don’t have a racer’s mind. I discovered a stately home on the mainland I missed last time, had a good look at the castle at Kerrera, explored and mind camped at few places along the way, greeted a seal and sung few songs. Only later I found out, that you are meant to be looking at the stern ahead of you and paddle fast. Well, I may be excused, there wasn’t a stern ahead of me for sure between the 5 and 45 minutes into the race.

Conclusion? I am thinking of coming next year again and of working on my starting, to keep up with the peloton. Let’s just hope, more women will have similar boats for better distribution of categories. But as we know, it’s not always the boat what makes the difference.

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Sixknots on Lundy

photo 1Sometimes everything is straitforward and goes according to plans, some other times plans keep changing all the time. Last saturday was more or less example of the second case.

Plan A: Surfing and rockhopping in North Devon.

As forecast progressed and there was no chance for surf to develop an idea of a very selfish plan appeared.

Plan B: To try how fast my new boat is while crossing to Lundy from Lee Bay early morning and gentle paddle back in the afternoon.photo 2IMG_0080IMG_0081IMG_0082

I was getting ready to battle increasing headwind on return journey, but the appearance of the MS Oldenburg landing in Lundy harbour changed the plan again.

Plan C: Chicken out and cross to Ilfracombe in comfort of  bigger boat and be picked up in harbor latter.IMG_0083IMG_0090IMG_0095

Summary:

My new boat is fast.

I have spend on island only three and half hours, however it was still more than it took  paddling there.

It is possible to take kayak on MS Oldenbourg, they put kayaks on starboard side.

Never trust forecast.

Time on stopwatch when my boat touched Lundy stoped on 2:55:08.IMG_0079

My new boat is fast.

Sixknots paddles six knots there and now:)Screen shot 2013-07-22 at 20.46.46