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.
Over to Michal:
ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS THE SAME EVERYWHERE, RIGHT? Saturday 23.06.18
“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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Photo by Freya Hoffmeister
After 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…”
After 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.
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.
Photo 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.
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.
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.
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.