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.

 

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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.

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.

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…

London is on fire

London. For some it’s just a town where they live. For many it’s an exciting place, one of the most visited in the world. They come here and leave again. For some it’s a place they never leave. But most of them will say that London it’s a buzzing city, where buildings are everywhere, traffic, people, noise, commotion and more.
However, even within this town there are places where it could be calm, even quiet. Yesterday we went to one, and discovered that sometimes we don’t have to leave, that in the end the outdoor facilities in this City are rather above average.

 autum fires 12autum fires 1 (1)autum fires 10autum fires 2 (1)autum fires 8autum fires 1 autum fires 11autum fires 2 autum fires 7  autum fires 9

And that’s what we love about it.

Wozzit or Bubble-wrap?

After long time of thinking I decided to treat myself to a new boat. Originally it looked that it would be a long wait, but that suited me fine, since I had my other new boat to play with anyway.

Then an email came and everything was happening fast. Rather too fast, within a week I became owner of new boat. Not wanting to upset my other one, I took time, and really there needs to be a bit of fuss if something is to be unwrapped; and this one came in bubble-wrap.photo-3

However, not wanting to leave in unattended for too long I took it for a spin or rather roll.

wozzit (1)

wozzit (2)

Later I decided that if one can roll a bubble-wrap, one should be able to paddle one, too.

wotsit 4

One can, but it is hard work, since bubble-wraps are not really watertight.

wotsit 5

wotsit 6

wotsit 1

But is there any other better place to uncover a new boat than with Tower bridge as a backdrop? Probably yes, but this place suited me just fine.

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wotsit 2Pace Tour 17 is my new boat.

 

GREAT BRITISH SUMMER HAS STARTED

We acquired the bag long time ago, somewhere in Wales, on our way around the Island. Surprisingly it stayed with us and has been used every time we went kayaking ever since. Even the trustworthy people of Scillies did not manage to part it with us when it had not arrived on Scillonian on our last journey from there to Penzance. The bag still made it home couple days later.

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It was at the Scillies, one warm dry evening in early June when we came with the idea of holding a picnic on a beach on our home waters.
The idea was born and the name was found: The Great British Summer Picnic.
And since our home waters are the major part of the city, it was held on the sandy beach of Thames, right opposite the Tate Modern, to be be precise.

Some time ago, while visiting Gravesend, the Paddling Gourmands Club was established. I won’t bore anyone with details but since this wasn’t first outing some firm rules were laid down.
The food had to arrive by kayak. Some members went further and even brought the food by bike.sb picnic 29

The food was strictly Great British Food. Some members, however foreign, showed effort and made Scotch Eggs,traditional with twist and veggie. Food had to be posh. Some members went far and even made organic, hand-picked, home-made Elderflower champagne. And so on the story went.sb picnic 24

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

sb picnic 18 DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPRO
Paddling that day was not easy, we had to go against the tide both ways. It was our home water which we know very well, yet we discovered some new unseen corners of the Thames.

sb picnic 12sb picnic 4sb picnic 1

Wonderful!

DARKNESS ON RIVER THAMES

Written by Toby Carr

Shadwell to Gravesend 

Friday 28th June 2013

Start Time: 18.45

Finish Time: 23.15

Distance: 45km

It was with slight trepidation that I signed up for this trip, the distant memories of a cold and wet December version with a biting westerly wind on the way back, a difficult paddle against the tide for the final stretch and a premature finish. Memories can be fickle things though and in this case the chance to sneak past ships taller than city blocks in the middle of the night after a gourmet dinner from a kayak hatch was too good to miss, anyway it’s summer – right?

After the usual frantic scrabble to leave work with a kit list including a whisk, we launched from the ladder at the basin onto the river at high tide.  The plan: to follow the tide out to the estuary and stay overnight in Gravesend, a possible trip to Canvey Island on Saturday, returning to London with the tide on Sunday.  So far, so good and as London geared up for a Friday night we dodged the party boats and clippers circling in the river at Greenwich, and left the bright lights behind us. We were soon through the barrier and into the low lying flats of Rainham Marshes and Purfleet enjoying the sodium discharge lamp sunset under the QEII bridge and the feint smells of hops and grain hanging in the muggy air. Barrier gravesend 45

Now officially outside city limits we pushed on past spit and buoy, under the power lines at Thurrock and through some choppy water in Fiddler’s reach to Grays. As we negotiated our way through barges and grain wharfs we were greeted by cheers from shift workers loading gravel into boats on the quayside and a spectacular fireworks display marking the end of our journey at Gravesend.  From our low vantage point riding the falling tide, we passed the town piers where Friday night was in full swing and were escorted by a friendly/confused harbour master as we disembarked safely on the rowing club jetty.  Having hauled our boats up the jetty and along the promenade we established that luckily the key Natalie had been given was indeed for the sailing club and as if by magic a man appeared out of the darkness and offered to open the bar. It was about midnight and the sailing club were holding their annual race to Shivering sands and back with an early start at 6.30am. The man – who was the race officer promised to sound the starting claxon quietly, surely an oxymoron but a very considerate gesture nonetheless.

Saturday 29th June

Gravesend to … Gravesend

Distance: < 1km ?

Agreed departure time: 10am for a paddle downstream to Canvey Island and towards the Estuary proper. Something about best made plans of mice and men should go here but I have forgotten the connection, anyway with a forecast of force 5 westerly winds, we may have got there quickly but the probable headwind on the way back could have zapped our energy for the return to London that evening.  So it was time for some oil city blues a shower for Alan and a slightly longer breakfast than planned.  Lower Hope, Mucking, Scars Elbow and Deadman’s Point will just have to wait until next time.

We were not destined to be land lubbers for long and had soon boarded the ‘Duchess’ for a short ferry crossing (£3 return) over the river and so to Tilbury Fort where we found free elderflower wine and raspberry curd for (a second) breakfast courtesy of English Heritage.  The fort has impressive outworks of moats, bridges and ramparts and a long history. Sadly the only bit of which I can remember was that Scottish prisoners from the battle of Culloden were once kept there, the people of London travelling up the river with perfume scented hankies to mask the smell and paying sixpence to sneak a peak at the men in kilts. gravesend 46 gravesend 47

We returned to Gravesend with a band of Saturday afternoon shoppers from Tilbury, had a pint in the Three Daws where from our vantage point in the beer garden we could see the vast Hamburg Sud leaving Tilbury ladened up and heading out to sea.  The wind had dropped by the afternoon in time for a sunny snooze on the benches outside the sailing club as the crews returned from their race and wandered what on earth these funny pointy boats were doing there and who let tramps into the sailing club.

As is now becoming tradition, we ate well before our departure at 1 am the following day. A meal of roasted vegetables, antipasti, chilli pesto, godfather pasta and freshly made pizza was started with a chilled aperitif and finished with Tiramisu.  After some pyjama clad boat faff, we were in bed by 8 for and early start for the trip back to London.gravesend 48 gravesend 49

Sunday 30th June (just)

Gravesend to London

Start Time: 1.30am

Finish Time: 7.30am

Distance: 45km

With bleary eyes and dubious amounts of sleep we started the kayak packing rituals and the procession to the jetty.  We were watched eagerly by a couple of drunk but interested Gravesenders who helpfully reminded us that the river is not like a road and it’s not like you can stop at a service station if you get tired and need a cup of tea.  They also decided that kayaking could be good as they were often looking for things to do at night (we chose not to point out it is more usual to do it during the day).  Our new supporters followed us to the jetty despite warnings not to and with their shouts or good luck and ‘see you later gaw-jus’ to Natalie, we were back on the river.gravesend 36 gravesend 37 gravesend 38 gravesend 39

Having crossed the river and started on our way, the VHS crackled and London VTS announced ‘six kayakers have entered the terminal’ as we slipped quietly past the container giants loading up in Tilbury Docks, literally like ships in the night.  gravesend 43

The misleading sight of the towers of Canary Wharf from Erith seemed like a mirage as it disappeared amongst the grain silos, pylons and chimneys as quickly as it arrived not to be seen again for several hours. As we turned the corner, a cluster of motionless bulldozers, silhouetted against the bright pink sunrise sat quietly atop the landfill at Rainham and the calm water reflected the early morning sun, it was 4am with a high tide at Shadwell at 8.gravesend 17gravesend 5 gravesend 9  gravesend 21

gravesend 11 gravesend 13 gravesend 32gravesend 7gravesend 6We pushed on past Barking Creek and the barrier to watch the long haul flights banking high in the sky over the empty strings of the cable car, starting their final descent into Heathrow.  A Heron slapped by with its oversized wings and lanky legs whilst gangs of Shags flanked the gulls who were lined up on pontoon railings like spectators. As balloons and coconuts floated past us down the river, the serene stillness of the river and a calm, hot Sunday morning in London combined and somehow felt odd and familiar at the same time, like a distant memory.  Then I realised in my tired and delirious state – it felt like summer!gravesend 19

Great trip, thanks to all and to the Gravesend Sailing Club