And don’t forget to pay a visit to Gastrobus, the real highlight.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe we should do this more often.
The first May Bank Holiday we organised a trip to Cornwall for our club members. In the end there were 13 people going with skills ranging from intromediate to advanced; some of us being sea kayakers and some only white water paddlers.
We booked one coach, Richard Uren from Paddlecrest and 7 kayaks. Not everyone in London has a car. We stayed in a campsite close to Praa sands.
The paddling was great. We managed to paddle at the most southerly point of Britain, just west of Lizzard, and around Land’s End. The advanced group had some incident management training, and the intromediate one an introduction to surfing in Sennen. On Monday we all paddled together in the Fal Estuary. It was a great weekend.[vimeo https://vimeo.com/94703469]
This summer it’s going to be a five years since we went on our first week long seakayaking trip to Scillies. When it was over we were hooked. So first thing we did back in London was to look for the best way how to kayak more, and joined Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.
As you can see in the short clip made by our friend Toby, it was a good call.
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.
The unfriendly wind saw us taking a ferry towards Colonsay. An island that we would probably not visit otherwise, but one to which the Oban ferry went in a convenient time at a convenient price. While we were waiting to board, we met some other kayakers who decided to share with us their opinion about the weather forecast. According to them the general situation wasn’t good, lows and highs were moving across Britain (my attention withdrew after a while), it was meant to be windy, actually too windy for anything. Well, we like to keep things simple, from the forecast we remembered some F5 or F6 with periods of better weather in between. So a not too big island with sheltered and exposed side not too far from car seemed great.
On Monday we set to paddle around with vague idea what we can and want to see. We could see Jura and Islay all the time, however the headwind put stop to any ideas of going there, just yet. We decided to stop our paddle by a lovely cottage, called Seal cottage. It was early in the afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to explore the island of Oronsay, where we were now and the priory. That evening was even more exciting, we played a game and on top of that had dinner of a fish.
Yes, a fish, one that was caught by Michal. So on Monday a fish was caught! Apparently there were two, but one got loose before we landed on the beach. It was as well, or we would have to kill two. Because really, once the excitement of having fish wore off, a worry came that we would have to kill it, gut it, and eat it – that didn’t seem to be such horror.
Also Michal claimed that he caught one earlier, but a seal took it. Haha. True is, there was a seal which followed us for a while. And he (Michal) felt little tag on his line followed by bigger tag, and had tiny bit of fish remains left.
Never-mind, next day, we continued to paddle. First through Oronsay skerries, where we could see and hear lots of seals. The other side of the island was indeed exposed, and we were carried by huge elevator. The swell lifted us up, high high, and lowered us down. At many places the waves were breaking over ledges creating spectacular surf. The almost tailwind provided us with following sea and few times I felt like standing on top of a skiing slope looking down the drop. Fantastic.
We truly enjoyed the west side of the island, ok it is nothing wow or stunning, but there is rugged coast line, small islands, cliffs, small and bigger sandy beaches and many birds and seals. Everything just right amount.
We landed in a bay on north west side of the island, shared few words with local fishermen and admired lobsters they caught.
We did not fish that day since it was too rough and we did not feel like killing any fish that day. Really, if you decide to fish, you have to be responsible and committed. No supper was eaten that evening as we were too lazy to lite the cooker and went to sleep before getting hungry. Sorted.
Third day on Colonsay was crucial. We enjoyed the ride with the wind towards the northern tip and were not feeling excited about the slog against wind towards the harbour. At the same time we had a brief view of the Garvellachs Islands. So I came up with a plan. We will paddle there, with the wind. And then continue towards Oban. It took us twenty minutes to decide. We checked the tides, good, we couldn’t get a forecast, wind seemed to work with us and it was raining. After many yes-no-yes-no-yes, we decided to cross.
Unfortunately twenty minutes into it my arm started to hurt and we quickly changed to safer option. Ok, the arm then hurt another two hours against the wind towards the harbour, but means that it can rest before Saturday.
It wasn’t easy decision not to go, and still, even when having food at Colonsay hotel I was thinking about the satisfaction of reaching yet another island, but well, one doesn’t have to go everywhere one sees. However the proverbial sack has been hung (In Czech Republic climbers “hung sack” if they have to quit an attempt for any reasons).
It took us a while to discover what do we actually like most or what we would like to do most on this holiday. Well, yesterday we found out. As I said earlier the paddle along the coast of Ross of Mull, however beautiful and stunning it was, was ok. But it was just that, ok. Today was great.
We woke up early as we know that we aren’t the fastest ones to get ready and left Iona by 9am. It was just that we got ready early since strong rain started midway through our packing, and if we weren’t up, we might not got up in the end. The Abbey appeared and then disappeared in a fog and we followed a bearing towards Staffa.
Staffa and Fingal’s cave, visited for centuries by tourists and recently kayakers. The former thanks to Railway Company, the later thanks to its fame and position. We had the pleasure to experience Fingal’s cave while many yellow puffins were watching. Ahhhhh:-)
The rain stopped and the fog lifted just there, and we were granted the view of Treshnish islands, our next destination. Treshnish islands are wonderful, one looks like a sombrero, later we found its name to be Dutch man’s cap, one is flat, one, Lunga, has few big hills, and so they go. We landed at Lunga to have lunch and to listen to forecast. “Strong wind warning, Gale 8 soon” and so on. Again I did not got to go to explore the island, neither we climbed the hill, anyway, we are not walkers, we are climbers turned kayakers. We left, direction Coll.
We were in a bit of hurry, to make it before the “soon” in the forecast. And here, during this crossing it is that we discovered what we like. Island hopping, the excitement of leaving one behind, arriving at another one, that’s what it is. Besides if you can see it, you can paddle there; something we remember from last year, is still on our minds.
The Lunga – Coll crossing was entertaining. We saw Treshnish Isles and Gometra, Isle of Mull, a bit of Iona and Coll and far end of Tiree. Later we could see Muck and Eigg, Rum and light house at Ardnamurchan point. Of course, lots of memories came back. And on top of that, we saw a fin. As in black fin sticking out of water and it was Basking shark. Sadly he choose not to come too close, but at least he was there.
This trip was actually full of wildlife. To this date we have seen many gannets, yet, they were always far on rocks or flying high. This time one was flying so low that I finally saw its yellow head, hurray, actually we almost saw eye to eye.
Then before Staffa and before Coll we saw porpoises. There were few other animals around, including jelly fish, but those named really made our day. However, no fish was caught and yet again own imported food was cooked.
Day 1: At the beginning the plans were very varied. They covered an area from Shetlands ( dismissed for the price of ferry) to Orkneys (dismissed for lack of time) across to Barra and Western Isles (the unsettled weather put stop to this one) until we ended up in Oban with 10 days to spare. We decided to try something new and bought some fishing lines in fish tackle shop.
We left Oban with the idea of making it past the south west Ross of Mull the next day. Sure, we like to navigate with maps that cover large areas, but probably forgot to check the scale. We made it past Kerrerra and started to cross towards Mull, but suddenly it seemed to be too far, so we ended up on Insh Island , which wasn’t that bad in the end. The evening sun made the view down towards Sound of Luing and Fladda spectacular. Unfortunately thanks to the midges, there was no photographer willing to get out of the tent and hence no photo.
And yes, that evening we did not have fish for dinner.
Day 2: We left Insh this time to make it across to Mull, and further along its coast. However strong headwind made it harder and we ended not as far as we wanted to be. The day was insignificant by weather or sights. We landed somewhere, but not on our map and went to bed without dinner, fish or other.
Day 3: It was time to come to terms with the fact that Ross of Mull is very long and probably the only sight that we will see on this trip. However, the cliffs were magnificent, we even saw a bird of pray, some arches, many waterfalls, there was sun and what’s more, the predicted head wind changed to local tail wind. We cruised past the coast and in evening fog and rain landed on Iona. Tomorrow will be sightseeing day. But again, no fish to be eaten for supper.
Day4: The rain stopped in the morning and we decided to explore the mystic island of Iona. Morning fog saw us visiting the Abbey and local amenities.
Since there was no fishing today, we decide to give in and try local fish pie.
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.
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.
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.
My new boat is fast.
When we were still kayaking around the British Isle we received an invitation to come and stay at Burnham on Crouch Royal Sailing club and meet their kayaking section. Unfortunately due to our determination to finish by the date we have planned for and desire to avoid all mud flats and sand banks we haven’t stayed.
When we finished the trip we decided that it may be a good place to have one of our talks there. In the end, if they wanted to see us during our paddle, they may still want to see us after. They did! Ann, our friend then organised a talk for us there together with a paddle. It was an amazing day. Ten weather was perfect, skies were dramatic. About sixteen people and fifteen boats gathered to paddle during the day. What was impressive that people came from all over, Kent, Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Reading. Some even stopped other way home form South of Europe to Wales. And good they did, like this we could steal and use Taran’s map to show where we paddled.
Ok, it wasn’t hard core sea conditions, but the yachts were getting stranded and needed to be rescued, so there must have been something.