Paddling with THCC

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.


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.






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.



Kayak Fishing in North Argyll

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.

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 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


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

Burnham on Crouch – Paddle and Talk

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.

Besides, at some point we had to portage it, too.

We truly enjoyed the talk as the audience was brilliant.
Thank you to Mike from Kent, who came to pick us up and dropped us off home afterwards.






Scarecrows and chalk towers

by Alastair Ferrar

On the weekend of 25/26 August 2012 it seemed appropriate to tempt Michal and Natalie to another weekend on the waves straight after their week fending off the French press at the CK/mer symposium on the coast of Brittany.

The Mad Czechs thought I might like to re-live one memorable day of their around Britain experience and so they directed us to an interesting and prominent chalk headland on the east coast, habitat to a bazillion sea birds, and sea cliffs riddled with caves. I was easily persuaded. It was a fairly long drive for a short weekend paddle in the waves, but well worth the effort. There may be prizes for figuring out where this is…

We were heading for what was described as a ‘pretty little village’ on a headland, not far from which we would find our farmyard style camp site with toilets but not a lot else . We found it, the village was indeed little, but certainly not pretty. Our campsite, however, was just what we needed, views of the headland, secluded and quiet. We were lucky enough to visit this not-so-pretty little village during ‘scarecrow week’ and we were told that that we should keep an eye out for the trail of the scarecrows. This would be a side project perhaps that could take place at some point during the weekend.


First thing in the morning we hunted down the star attraction (on land), the oldest surviving complete lighthouse still standing in Britain, a hexagonal tower built from chalk in 1670 with a platform on top thought to be for a coal or wood fire. We were not able to enter so we admired her from the roadside. Our Saturday morning mission was then to conquer a hearty fry-up and once we were well satisfied we would take to the water, on the leeward side of the headland, based on an initial peak to the water on north side, which was quite scary looking.


Our breakfast in a small café near the new lighthouse was somewhat less than satisfactory. It never is good when one is greeted with the acrid smell of burnt vegetable fat and then presented with fried eggs with a small curly hair stuck on the yolk. When it came to payment, Natalie decided (true to form) to mention our disappointment to which the madam replied, “not our fault… it must be the manufacturer’s fault!” Hmm, ok.

The sea at the North Landing was too rough for us gentle folk, and the kayak fishing symposium at the South Landing was not very attractive, so we decided to head north in search of some calmer water. Thirty minutes drive north we found a protected beach with an interesting looking protruding rock shelf that was creating some white frothy stuff. Michal and I spent a few hours playing on the safe side of the limestone ledges, not quite brave enough to venture to the north side to take on the wind and swell. It was quite humbling to be right in all that white froth just meters away from calamity.





While looking for a good place to eat that evening we found ourselves on the trail of the scarecrows. This was a unique and typically British experience, quirky and eccentric, humorous and very entertaining. Around every corner, in quaint and well tended front gardens, we were delighted by yet another creation, even better than the one before, each one telling a tale. Wonderful!












We woke at 6am the following morning, knowing that the now southerly wind would only strengthen throughout the day, and by 8am we were on the water under the majestic north facing cliffs. Although we were on the north, now leeward, side of the headland, the swell coming from the north east and colliding with the chalk walls, was presenting us with some interesting shaped water. The tide was not high enough at this point to comfortably explore the caves so we kept our distance from the breakers and admired the stunning beauty of the cliffs. The anticipated assemblage of sea birds was nowhere to be seen, perhaps we were a month too late, but the beauty of the cliffs and caves will certainly bring us back again despite the scary crows and hairy eggs of the pretty little village.




It was a weekend at the end of October for which Natalie chose to do a trip to Simonds Yat with some friends from our club. I wasn’t very keen to do open boating again so soon, so I decided to rather stay in London and spend some time working on club boats. Few days before Natalie was due to leave I had a call from Alastair asking if I wanted to come along for some sea kayak surfing in Bristol Channel. Later it became clear that he actually meant North Devon and I couldn’t say no. Then Vincent and some other of Alastair’s friends were to be there, and I knew that if anything would be possible, one thing was for sure; there will be lots of fun.

Quite unexpectedly I happened to be the one who made our journey to Croyde less than ordinary. Not being familiar with Alastair’s car I was happily driving not checking the fuel indicator till the warning light came on. What was left in the tank would let us go for another 20 miles only, instead of 70 as I am used to. To make the story short, there wasn’t an open petrol station in  Friday midnight, and we had to go back to M5. The last five miles the car must have gone on pure adrenaline pouring from our ears, as the car computer clearly stated “RANGE 0 MILES”. We made it in the end.

We set up in a campsite at half past two at night, to be kicked out by a security guard at 7am. Apparently we pitched our tents on a wrong field. And more was coming.

Let’s get back to the paddling. We had great conditions for the whole weekend. While I was enjoying surfing and Alastair swimming, Vincent decided it was time for some excitement, and tried to kill his friend James. Fortunately James used to fight for his live, didn’t hesitate and when he found himself upside down in the surf with the spraydeck loop tucked under, he managed to wriggle himself free sacrificing only few fingernails.  Vincent called him The Hamster for rest of the weekend.

In the meantime Natalie had great time ferry gliding from eddy to eddy at Simonds Yat rapids. And we decided to produce a short paddling clip again.

On top of all this, I have a proof that it is possible to get a sea kayak flying while surfing.