Sunday, 16 August 2015

Mono Lake - 31st July 2015

I had an unexpected opportunity to get a short kayaking trip in during our recent family holiday to the U.S. We were travelling up from Las Vegas, via Death Valley then up the Owen's Valley to enter Yosemite over the Tioga pass.

I've been to Mono Lake a few times before, and we planned to stop there again this trip. While having a pizza in Lone Pine, we noticed a leaflet advertising kayak trips on Mono Lake. We thought this would be a different way to see the lake and with the benefit of a guide we might learn something too.

So for the first time ever, I managed to get the whole family into kayaks! Nancy, being the least experienced, was put in a double with me in the back. The boys had their own sea kayaks.

We brought the Manchester weather with us, so despite California having a severe drought, we set off in light rain. Given the fact that the day before we had been in 110 degrees F, this was actually quite pleasant.

Mono Lake is 6378 feet (1946 meters) above sea level, so it is also the highest I've kayaked. With no exit stream/river to drain it, Mono Lake's level only reduces through evaporation. This causes concentration of minerals and makes the lake extremely saline - with a pH of 10, it is 3 times saltier than the ocean.

Streams bubbling into the lake carrying minerals have built tufa towers that now protrude above the surface of the lake (the lake is lower than its natural level due to feeder streams having been diverted as water supplies. This diversion has now stopped, and the lake has partly recovered to a higher level again). These tufa towers are one of the main sights of the lake, and soon after launching we were paddling in amongst them.

The lake does not support fish, but instead has a massive population of Brine Shrimp and Alkali Flies. These flies are so abundant that they were a source of protein for the indigenous 'indian' people, and a derivative of their name for the flies gives Mono Lake its name. The shrimp and flies support a wide range of bird species and we saw many gulls, waders and a couple of pairs of Osprey nesting on top of tufa towers. (Strangely, the Ospreys nest here despite the lack of fish, and fly off elsewhere to feed).

After paddling through the tufa towers and then giving a wide berth to the nesting Ospreys we carried on down the lakeshore to a beach were we met another group and we stopped for a rest and a bite to eat. One of our guides read an entertaining description of the lake written by Mark Twain, Once suitably refreshed we retraced our steps back to Naval Beach where we had launched.

Throughout our paddle we were told about the natural history of the lake and the local geology by our excellent guide. If you are passing that way and fancy a paddle, their can be contact information is on their Caldera Kayaks website. The standard tour that we did is only a few miles and a couple of hours paddling - suitable for novices.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Brereton Lake Rolling Sessions - July 2015

I went to Brereton for 3 of the Thursday night club sessions and worked on my rolling to various degrees. As I improve my right-sided rolls, my left-sided rolls still do not get any better. On my right I have done the traditional lay-back roll, storm roll, butterfly roll and pry roll. Still struggling on the forward finishing rolls, but having a few successful attempts at the pry roll on my last session was encouraging.

Macclesfield Hasler Race - 12th July 2015

Last year I did all the electronic entry and results for this race, so I wasn't able to paddle. This year my services weren't required, so I had no excuse.

There were 11 boats in my class, so I decided to hang around at the back of the start to avoid the mayhem of everyone trying to get through the narrow gap at the first bridge. This strategy seemed to pay-off as a I gradually then picked off my competitors one-by-one. As I got nearer the front this started to prove to be a bit harder, and I settled down in fourth place.

The canal was quite busy with barges that caused us to wait at a few of the bridges which broke the race up a bit. When you know you are going to have to wait, it's not very sporting to overtake as people are slowing down, but then once the blockage has passed the people in front get away first and can establish a bit of a gap again. And so it carried on for the return leg (the race was 4 miles in total, 2 miles out, turnaround, 2 miles back) when I got close, the boats in front would get away again at the next restriction. I got into 3rd place, but run out of time to improve on that position.

So my tactics were too cautious - I should have partaken in the sprint at the start and hopefully got to the front. Oh well, maybe next year.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Coquet Island Race - 28th June 2015

Race bibs drying after the event
After our exploits on the Farnes, we set off early to make our way down to Amble where the annual Coquest Island canoe race takes place. On our arrival we were suitably impressed with the new clubhouse, fully equipped with kitchen, showers and toilets that means the event is a lot more civilised now - no more peeing in the hedgerow!

The conditions for the race were a moderate breeze that created some small waves, but nothing too desperate.

I was paddling my Xplore rather than my Epic, so I wasn't expecting to be too competitive, but so long as I beat Jim I didn't mind!

As we headed out from the harbour into the more open water the surf skis and a couple of the faster kayaks started pulling away, but I was having my own race with a few other boats nearby. As we approached the island we were greeted by a large number of seals plus the entertainment of one of the skis struggling with the conditions.

On rounding the southern end of the island there were waves breaking on the reefs and I tried to cut it as close as I could without getting caught in the break. Having not learnt my lesson from 24 hours previously, just as I paddled over the reefs, a bigger set of waves came in and I found myself bongo-sliding towards the rocks again. I managed to pull myself off the wave, but had to paddle backwards to get out of the area of breaking water. By this time I had lost about 6 places, and also provided some laughs to those that saw my misfortune.

The return leg back to the harbour was just off being downwind, so I could surf some of the waves and I managed to regain all the places I lost from my excursion onto the island. I was 9th boat back, 2nd "traditional" sea kayak. Interesting to note all the first 4 places were taken by over 55s... where are all the youngsters?

Oh, and I beat Jim.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Farne Islands - 27th June 2015

My back has been playing up again, so it was touch and go as to whether I'd make the weekend trip to Northumberland, but I decided to go.

Perhaps it is being a bit boring, but I've done the same thing a number of times on this trip - paddle the Farnes on the Saturday, then race around Coquet Island on the Sunday. Perhaps next time I should sample some of the other delights of the Northumberland coast.

Waiting to launch
After a bit of a faff about who was actually paddling in our group, we set off from Bamburgh sands near Harkess Rocks in warm sunshine and headed towards the small rocky island of Megstone. The main attraction of paddling the Farnes this time of year is the abundant birdlife and the Megstone was covered in both birds and their rather smelly by-product. We decided not to navigate the small channel that splits the rock into two in order to minimise disturbance to the nesting birds.

Jim by the Megstone
Clouds were coming and going and their was a light, but warm, breeze from off the land to our W. Our next cluster of islands were Brownsman and Staple Island. On reaching them we found ourselves floating through flotillas of Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots, with many other birds flying in all directions.

Puffins galore

We carried on working our way towards the outer islands of the chain. There wasn't really much swell and we hugged the rocks looking for the odd challenging gap to paddle through. Off the end of North Wamses, Jim and I made our way over to paddle through some small waves that we had seen breaking on the end of the island. Jim paddled just in front of me and just as we entered the break zone a large wave reared up from nowhere - Jim had time to get over it and out to safer deep water, but it broke on me sending me backwards onto the rocks. I was bracing and trying to pull myself off the wave, fearing the heart wrenching sound of my boat being smashed onto the jagged rocks. Luckily I managed to stay afloat, but it still took me a couple more attempts to get through the next waves to get out off the break zone.

Needless to say my paddling companions made no effort to get themselves into a position to rescue me if needed and left me to my own devices. Once I caught back up with them they seemed very amused by the incident. I'll not make such a misjudgement in a hurry again.....

After that excitement we made our way over to the Longstone Island and its seal colony. We ate lunch sheltering from the breeze behind the Longstone Lighthouse.

Longstone Lighthouse
A quick circumnavigation of the Longstone, and we set off on our return trip that took us round the S end of the reefs and islands. We passed through the impressive pinnacles on the S end of Staple Island. Nesting birds occupied all possible perches, and a few seemingly impossible ones. The pinnacles look as though they are white-washed with droppings and the stench is pretty powerful.

The Staple Island pinnacles

Our final stop was the bird sanctuary on the Inner Farne. This popular attraction gives the unique opportunity to walk on a boardwalk through hundreds of nesting birds. You are first "greeted" by Arctic Turns aggressively protecting their nests (some of which are even on the boardwalk). They click their warning before pecking you on the head to send you on your way. Further round you come across Puffin burrows and watch the incoming parents, mouths full of sandeels, run the gauntlet of the scavenging gulls. Then at the end of the path there is a lookout over the nesting gulls and auks perched on the small cliffsides.

Arctic Turn chick
Turn and chick
Puffin burrows
After getting our fill of ornithology we made the final crossing back to Bamburgh and a surf landing on the beach.

Bamburgh Castle
About 20km paddled.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Conwy Ascent - 20th June 2015

Annual race up the river Conwy (with the incoming tide), followed by a more leisurely tour back again. Finished second sea kayak, although there isn't much difference between some of the racing K1s and the more sporty sea kayaks, so it's a bit of an arbitrary classification. Conditions were a lot more benign than last year, and the tour back was in pleasant sun shine.

At the finish
Rounded off the excellent day with a fish and chips supper in Conwy!

Fish and Chips supper!

Brereton Lake - 18th June 2015

Another greenland rolling session. Managed a number of successful rolls on my left hand side, but all requiring a forward sweep to finish. Main problem seems to be not being able to bring my body and head out of the water last with no discernible hip flick. No success with reverse sweep/pry. I think I overdid all the rolling and have strained my back!... perhaps I'm getting too old for this.