Monday, 18 August 2014

Portland Harbour and the Fleet - 18th August 2014

Launched from Sandsfoot beach and paddled over towards Ferry Bridge and into the Fleet. The strong NW wind slowed me down somewhat, and I decided to have a look at the fishermen's huts on the Chesil side. I've seen these huts many times from the water, or from the coast path on the mainland, but never up close. They vary from ramshackle to plush...

Looking up the Fleet towards the bridging camp
Huts on Chesil

I got back in my boat and headed back towards Portland Harbour, this time with the wind and small waves on my back making progress easy. I turned right and headed over towards the Olympic centre and came across a kitesurfer in a spot of bother - his kite strings had broken, and so had his safety leash to his board. He was trying to swim back to the beach, but was making no real progress, so I towed him over to the breakwater by the Olympic centre. No sign of his board though... must have ended up over in the old naval base somewhere - hope he gets it back! After dropping him off I crossed the harbour into the wind and waves to return to Sandsfoot. On the water for about 90 minutes.

Portland Harbour - 17th August 2014

Half hour session with the boys in Portland harbour, short paddle around and I tried a few rolls. Right hand roll fine (see video), left hand roll needs some work! - all photo/video acknowledgements to Nancy.

Taking a breather
The boys and Roxy

Macclesfield Canal - 14th August 2014

The August round of the club Hare and Hounds - and I came in third again!... that's 6 third places in a row now. Managed another PB though, so my time is down to 38:10, which will not help the handicap at all!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Macclesfield Canal - 10th August 2014

Hour long session on the canal paddling the Tor, 8.6km paddled, average speed 9.2kph. Had to wait about 15-20 minutes in the boathouse waiting for a heavy storm to pass over... if I had set off 5 minutes earlier I would have been drenched!

Macclesfield Canal - 4th August 2014

Steady 8.6km in just over an hour leading a couple of Macclesfield club paddlers on the monday night session, then a more lively extra 3km with Graham.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Trentham Hasler Race - 3rd August 2014

A sunny, but slightly windy day made the Trentham marathon meeting a very pleasant day out. I entered the Div 7 race over 4 miles (although in theory I'm in Div 9). After a bit of a slow start managed to get into second place and on the last turn opened up a small gap to avoid the need for a sprint finish. Over a minute behind the winner though (I finished in 39:31, winner's time was 38:10), he was promoted to Div 6, I was promoted to Div 7 justifying the decision to put me in that division on the day, missing out on promotion to Div 6 by 21 seconds.

My trusty steed

Andrew Millest takes a wide turn
John Kavanagh gets an inside line
Trentham Lake

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Arctic Sea Kayak Race (ASKR) - 20th to 26th July 2014 - Skipnes and the Half Marathon

[ASKR blog post 3 of 3]

Anticipating swarms of midges and mosquitoes, we had tentatively booked into the fishermen's bunkhouses rather than camp again. The old fishermen's accommodation was rustic and full of charm and provided the luxury of showers and clean bed linen. As it happened, flies weren't a problem, and it was lovely to be able to relax sitting outside on the boardwalks suspended over the harbour that connected the buildings together.
Our bunkhouse
Fishernen's bunkhouse dorm
Not long after, both the short and then the long rambles joined up with us and the previously quiet village was now a vibrant community of paddlers. A couple of Norwegian kayak shops had set their stalls up on the boardwalk and with the bar and cafe the hubbub continued late into the night (again!).
By now it was Thursday, and a lot of paddlers took the opportunity to explore the wonderful island of Tindsoya – either on foot or by kayak. Interconnected by mown paths, the houses and buildings were interesting to explore. Anywhere without cars always has a relaxed atmosphere and life has a different pace. We paddled down to the “waffle shop” in the fishing buildings of Tinden and explored the rock pools and surrounding area. My eyes wondered up and down the steep ridges and faces of Tindsinden the hill that lies behind the fishing huts, trying to work out the line to take for an ascent. With no obvious line it looked a serious undertaking, and combined with the fact that the cloud was occasionally engulfing the summit, I decided to leave it for another day.
Approaching Tinden
Tinden shop proprietor

While we were out, other activities were being held back in Skipnes harbour. A 200m sprint competition was well supported, a ramp was set up to enable the more adventurous to seal launch off of the pier and a qualified coach was running technical clinics.
In the afternoon I set about trying to borrow a more competitive boat for the race the following day. Our rental boats were plastic touring kayaks, while suitable for the “rambles” they would not be very quick for the race. One of the ASKR “crew” very kindly lent me a Norwegian kayak called a “Mentor” – a fast, long, touring boat with a rudder, so I was much happier as the discussion in the evening changed from the usual light hearted conversation to something that had a bit of an edge to it as tactics were explored and opposition assessed.

Card antics in the bar!
The “half marathon” race was only entered by the more competitive paddlers – anyone else could paddle the race route setting off an hour earlier as a “ramble” and this was done by the majority of paddlers. The morning of the race was greeted by a thick sea mist. Although it had started to clear to just patches by time the ramble was due to set off, it was decided that the original race route on the “outside” of the islands would not be safe and an “inside” route was used that weaved its way around a number of the islands around Tindsoya.
Awaiting the start for the "ramblers"
My own race was going surprisingly well and I was enjoying the speed and downwind responsiveness of the “Mentor”. At a turn around the bottom of an island about a third into the race, I was well positioned about 50 metres behind the two leaders. The race then turned into an upwind leg and the strength of the lead pair started to tell and I was not able to make up any ground on them. Then disaster struck. Not long after the turn I felt the rudder peddle on my left foot go limp and I lost control of the rudder. The rudder control string had broken, and I had no choice but to raise the rudder and paddle the kayak rudderless. Like most kayaks, the “Mentor” was trimmed to weathercock (turn into the wind) and I used a lot of energy trying to keep it on track. I managed to hold on to third place until the last couple of kilometres when I was overtaken by a couple of boats. Luckily the last leg was into the wind and I could mainly concentrate on just forward paddling and managed to keep within range of the now fourth placed boat and on the final few hundred metres to the finish managed to outsprint him to regain one position. A bit frustrating as I'm sure I would have kept third place if the rudder had not broken.
Our last evening in Vesteralen started with a lovely meal of baked fish pie called “Fish Symphony” - four different fish in a sauce. Prize giving and the usual formalities passed and the room was taken over by a one man band singing a fun mixture of English/American songs interspersed with popular Norwegian numbers. Chatting and dancing into the early hours capped off a wonderful week of paddling and socialising.
Saturday morning consisted of packing up and long goodbyes (my facebook friends list has risen significantly) before we paddled our boats back to the "mainland" at Krakberget. Having blagged yet another lift – this time all the way back to Tromso, we were set up to get back to Tromso at a reasonable hour. A meal and another stay in the Tromso apartment was followed by an early morning taxi ride to the airport and an uneventful return home by lunchtime. 
En route back to Tromso
Rudolf pizza available in Tromso airport
The ASKR would not be everyone’s cup of tea. Paddling and camping in large groups distracts from the wilderness experience, but this is more than compensated by the opportunity to socialise with the very friendly Norwegians paddlers to get insight into their lifestyles and the local history and culture. I can't thank enough the people that helped us out with arranging the trip, providing accommodation and for the friendly taxi services!

Arctic Sea Kayak Race (ASKR) - 20th to 26th July 2014 - The Long Ramble

[ASKR blog post 2 of 3]

Northern Norway was in the middle of a heatwave, and the bright and warm conditions continued, and by 10am the following morning (after having taught the Norwegians the meaning of the word “faff”) we were ready for the off. Sitting on the water in teeshirts and sun hats, our drysuits packed away in our boats where they would stay all week, it was a far cry from my work colleagues’ visions of us being eaten by polar bears or crushed by icebergs.
About to leave Ringstad
Paddling in a flotilla of about 40 boats is not exactly a wilderness experience, but being the only English people on the tour it was easy to chat to exchange paddling experiences with new friends – even in the Arctic it was surprising how many of the locals had heard of the tide races of Anglesey and in particular Penrhyn Mawr. Our route for the first morning took us around the western tip of Langøya and out to Litløya with its lighthouse and the dramatic mountain island of Gaukvӕrøya. With silken seas and the silhouette of Lofoten to the south it was a kayaking paradise.
Tranquil conditions
Looking S to Lofoten
Litløy Lighthouse
A leisurely lunch was taken on the northern end of Gaukvӕrøya on a glorious sandy beach. Most people were stripped of to shorts and bikinis enjoying the sunshine and the lure of the water for an “arctic swim” was too much for me to resist. Starting a trend, a number of Norwegian lady paddlers were overheard saying “we have to stay in longer than the Englishman” - not only did they stay in the water longer than me, they also further embarrassed me by thinking nothing of going in naked making me feel rather overdressed in my budgie-smugglers.
The afternoon session saw us continuing our route north passing numerous small islands and skerries. The “rambles” of the ASKR are no longer a race, but the long ramble still has a reputation for fast paddling and long distances, so it was at a steady pace we covered a further 17km, bringing the day's total near 40km.
Art Verhage - a veteran of the first ASKR
Looking N across Åsandfjorden
Our first wild camp was at Åsand on another perfect beach, and with our tents erected we settled down to cook our dinner on the sand. While there was some driftwood around, the ASKR “crew” ensured a healthy sized fire long into the night by bringing in bags of their own firewood. Extra bags were also used to create a sauna using the fireplace of a ruined building and a tarp to keep the heat in – yes, more naked Norwegians running between the sauna and the sea at regular intervals throughout the evening and late into the night. Modesty and being an English prude prevented me from joining in, but it was a close run thing fighting my desire to fit in with the locals.
Åsand campsite
With the late night antics it we didn't get going until 11am the following morning (having now taught the Norwegians the meaning of “farting around”). The weather had turned misty so it was rather grey as we continued north through the steep peaks and islands of Glimmerbukta, but the dull weather was soon forgotten with the fabulous display of sea birds including hundreds of puffins and a number of magnificent sea eagles. Wildlife had been fairly sparse up to this point, but over the next couple of days this was made up for in abundance with the comical puffins frequently our close companions and the sighting of sea eagles a common occurrence (just look for something resembling an old man standing on a rock). Terns, auks and gulls were also common, and I also saw a skua attacking a tern to rob it of its meal.
Sea eagles circling in front of us (honest!)
We stopped for a quick breather and pee stop in Nykvåg and then as the sun was coming out made our way round to the large beach at Hovden for lunch. The route for the afternoon was a long open crossing visiting an offshore rocky island before continuing on to the next campsite on Skogsøya. The Norwegians were excited at the prospect of such an exposed paddle – conditions don't normally allow such undertakings, and with the opportunity to paddle this route under the supervision of the ASKR guides it was an experience they didn't want to miss. However for us we can do open crossings in the UK, and we decided a fast offshore paddle was not really giving the Norway experience that we were looking for, so we asked if we could leave the “ramble” for a day to experience the coast at our own pace – to paddle in fjords that the locals are fed up with, but to us were magical places. So we said a temporary goodbye to our friends and watched the flotilla paddle off into the distance leaving us to the relative solitude of Hovden.
Fish drying racks at Hovden
Hovden church, looking S
We were fully self-contained with our own equipment and supplies, but our food was not very interesting, so we walked around the village wondering if there was a shop where we could add something fresher to our dinner that night. We got talking to a man asking if there was anywhere where we could buy some food and he promptly disappeared and returned clutching four pieces of freshly caught and frozen flounder. Refusing to take any money for the fish, he explained how he was one of the last remaining fishermen in the village as his generation had mainly been persuaded by their parents not to go to sea because of the terrible losses most families incurred. Even he was now a teacher down in Trondheim since an injury had forced him to give up the fishing and move away only to return, as now, on holiday.
Suitably stocked up, we set off again but this time at a much slower pace soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the peace and quiet of Malnesfjorden with only the occasional sea eagle for company. We passed many possible campsites, but we wanted to find one that would make the most of the evening sunshine and finally camped in a small inlet. 
Heading into Malnesfjorden
Exploring Malnesfjorden
Campsite at Gjenden in Malnesfjorden
We enjoyed our flounder with some Uncle Ben's rice and as the evening cooled, a sea mist slowly rolled in. Having some energy left I decided to climb the hillside behind our tents. I suspected that there was a temperature inversion and as I broke through the cloud back into the sunshine I was duly rewarded with a staggering view of jagged peaks appearing as islands in a sea of mist. I sat on a rock quietly contemplating the view for a while before I had to battle my way back down again through thick vegetation. We both slept well that night.
£7.50 at tin!
Sea mist rolls into Malnesfjorden
With no need or urge to rush, we left our camp fairly late in the morning and paddled back up the fjord to make our way around to Tindsøya and our base for the next few days, the fishing village of Skipnes. 
Staven (?)
Looking down Stavsundet
Drifting towards Skipnes

Arctic Sea Kayak Race (ASKR) - 20th to 26th July 2014 - Getting there

[ASKR blog post 1 of 3]
It’s a small world. One Friday evening in April I turned up with a friend at the “Paddler’s Return” on Anglesey and met a Norwegian couple who were on their last day of their visit. Little did I realise that four months later we would be talking again, but this time sat in the midnight sun around a fire basket in arctic Norway.
Originally conceived in 1991 as an extreme challenge event – 280 kilometres over 4 days – the early running of the ASKR was the preserve of hard-core racers. With decreasing entrants and increasingly difficult logistics, the race has evolved into a much more sociable affair that is now within the realms of mere mortals and even novices.
Taking place in the beautiful Vesterålen region of arctic Norway in mid-July, paddlers meet up and register on the Sunday before setting off on either a long or a short “ramble” with three nights of wild camping. The event then moves to its base in the old fishing village of Skipnes on the island of Tindsøya where everyone meets up again for the next three nights with the event culminating on the Friday with a 20 km “half marathon” race.
We could have flown to airports nearer the event, but Tromso seemed a nice place to visit in its own right and the journey down to the event would give us a chance to see some more of the area. On the Friday we were picked up from the airport by a local paddler whom I had befriended on Facebook, she chatted to us for a couple of hours then subsequently headed off for the weekend as we waved goodbye from her doorstep.
Our Tromso accommodation!
The following morning was spent exploring Tromso (excellent art museum), getting fuel for the stoves and last minute provisions. We caught the “Hurtigbat” high speed ferry that would take us down the spectacular coast to Vesterålen. 
The high speed ferry going in the opposite direction
Kråkberget Fjordcamp - event registration
Upon reaching Harstad, we were met by our second "local host" who drove us to Sortland where we would stay for the night. Famous for its blue buildings as a result of a local artist's fanciful idea, Sortland seemed a rather quiet place on the Saturday night. In the morning we enjoyed our fill of the buffet breakfast in our hotel as for the next few days we would be living off our own supplies. Our local host generously gave up her Sunday to further taxi us around – first taking us to the registration at Kråkberget, and then driving us and our rented kayaks over to Ringstad where we would camp for the night and from where the “long” ramble would leave in the morning.
Short ferry en route to Sortland
The view SE from Ringstad
Ringstad is a beautiful little fishing harbour with spectacular views across to the mountains of Hadseløya and Langøya. Mirror flat seas and clear skies made it feel more like the Mediterranean than the Arctic. We sat around a suspended fire basket getting to know our fellow paddlers drinking moderately due to the fact that tinnies of the local lager were £7.50 a go!

The blogger "Padlemia" who we were lucky to meet up with
Ringstad Sjohus - location of first night camp
Next installment: ASKR - the long ramble.