Saturday, 5 December 2015

Nottingham White Water Course - 5th December 2015

I've been wanting to paddle the artificial white water course at Holme Pierrepont near Nottingham for years. As a student I sent some money off that started the fundraising to get the course built and it was finally constructed in 1986. So it's only taken me nearly 30 years to get there.

The river Trent that supplies the water for the course was very high, and this meant the lowest drops were washed out, but the remaining features were quite interesting and lively.

We "warmed up" in the pool above the course by doing some rolls. It was freezing, and this put me off doing anything too spectacular once out on the course.

I did about 5 runs down the course, generally able to make the eddies that I wanted to, but I didn't really play in any of the waves. I managed to stay upright, but I wasn't really pushing myself. Would be nice to go back sometime when it is warmer.

Compared to the Teesside course, I think Holme Pierrepont is a bit more interesting, and the features more challenging, but that may only be because of the high water level. I must admit though the conveyor belt at Teesside makes it much more civilised compared to carrying your boat back up at Nottingham.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Moelfre to Benllech return trip - 28th November 2015

With the wind gusting force 8 from the SW, we had a look at launching at Bull Bay and heading west into the tide and increasing wind, but it didn't take too long to work out that was not such a good idea and would only give us limited options.

So we high-tailed it round to Moelfre where conditions proved to be more sheltered and we had a longer stretch of coastline to go at.

We launched as the local lifeboat team members were erecting the village Christmas tree; surprisingly we didn't get any awkward comments given the conditions. We hugged the coastline as best we could to try and avoid getting caught in any offshore wind.

By paddling so close in, you see things you wouldn't normally see, since in normal conditions we would be further out to sea and perhaps motoring along on a longer paddle. Therefore I hadn't realised there was a small harbour tucked away in the back of the bay at Traeth Bychan that was interesting to explore.

We pottered on around the headland at Penrhyn (Welsh for headland or peninsula...) mindful to stay out of the small surf break on the end doing the odd bit of rock hopping.

As we neared Bennlech there is a small stream that passes through a pipe under the road and then enters the sea. The lack of excitement so far was obviously too much for Bruce to bear, he got out of his boat and proceeded to paddle the stream. He must have made all of 5 metres before getting stuck on some rocks and having to man handle his boat back into salty water.

The sandy beach at Bennlech had some reasonable small surf that provided entertainment as we landed for lunch. We struggled to find a spot that was both out of the wind and also away from the discarded bags of irresponsible dog owners (why pick up your dog's poop in a bag, then leave the bag???)

Once suitably refreshed we made our way back, getting in a bit of towing practice to provide some interest.

Just over 8km paddled.

The picture don't show how wild the conditions were out of the shelter... here's picture of Penrhyn Mawr the following day, and it would have been similar the day we paddled.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

River Goyt - 15th November 2015

Macclesfield Club trip down the Goyt from Roman Lakes to Chadkirk.

Fairly high water level (up to 0.9 on the online gauge?) made for a bouncy ride with some nice wave trains.

The horseshoe weir was in a dangerous state with many logs being re-circulated and the toe-back into the weir went out for a good few metres.

Here's a video of the weir:

Here's a video of Sam shooting the broken weir near Chadkirk:

Monday, 2 November 2015

Crosby Beach and RIver Mersey - 1st November 2015

Instead of our normal foray's along the North Wales coast we opted for a change of scenery and decided to paddle on the River Mersey through Liverpool. Unfortunately the weather wasn't being that kind, and a fairly thick fog greeted us as we prepared to launch from Crosby Beach RNLI station.

Crosby is famous for the iron man sculptures by Antony Gormley. A hundred of these cast iron statues look eerily out to sea and provide an unusual feature to paddle through. Not sure if I'd be too keen on them if there was a lot of surf though!

Crosby Beach
Graham approaches one of the sculptures
We made our way along the beach and after a few kilometres we met the breakwater that marks the start of the Bootle docks. Work is ongoing improving the breakwater with what looks like a new berthing area and the dockside supports a number of large wind turbines.

Conscious of the shipping hazard we were checking in regularly over the radios with Liverpool VTS (Vessel Traffic Services) on VHF channel 12. There was little activity though because of the fog. We heard reports of the visibility from the vessels in the area and around the Crosby Channel it was "1 to 2 cables" (a cable is one tenth of a nautical mile).

We passed a number of large dock lock gates and the Victoria Tower and made our way down to the main Liverpool riverfront and the city docks. We were being carried along quite fast on the incoming tide as we took photos of the famous landmarks.

Victoria Tower
The Liver Building
Once past Albert Docks and the exhibition centre we were starting to think of somewhere to stop for lunch. This is not easy, as the whole riverfront is either docks or vertical walls. We ended up stopping on some steps near the Dingle Festival Park - the others used the steps and I had a quick leg stretch after mooring up to a vertical ladder.

I returned to my boat and ate a snack on the water. We then started to head back with the tide now on the ebb.

There was more shipping activity on our return - the fog had lifted slightly, and a big tanker headed out from the Tranmere side. We were twice mentioned over the radio by the VTS so we had to check in and report our position. We were on the east side of the river and a ship was about to leave Gladstone dock and they were concerned of our whereabouts. We paddled swiftly past the lock gates and reported that we were clear and shortly afterwards they opened the lock gates and the ship eventually passed us out in the channel.

With the swift tide it was not long before we were back on Crosby beach making our way past all the iron men back to our launch site.

30km paddled. We left Crosby at 11:15, with high tide Liverpool just after 2pm. We were off the water just after 4pm.

Macclesfield Canal - 25th October 2015

Club boathouse <> Higher Poynton Marina. Out in a about 49 minutes, back in just under 51.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Macclesfield Canal - 18th October 2015

Club boathouse <> Higher Poynton Marina. Out in a about 48 minutes, back in just under 50. Lots of leaves in the canal leading to a lot of them getting pinned to the bow and an annoying wash.

Bollington Pool Session - 16th October 2015

Used my greenland paddle in the pool and practised the storm roll I had learnt with Helen Wilson on Anglesey. At the end of the session I tried a hand roll, and did one first time, but then failed all subsequent attempts. Oh well.

Macclesfield Canal Hare and Hounds Race - 11th October 2015

Finished 14th in a time of 42:24, but was held up for a while at one of the turns due to a barge getting in the way! I think I need to do some more training, that's 4 minutes down on my best time last year. Nice to see so many paddlers out - 20 paddlers in 17 boats (so that's 3 K2s).

Greenland rolling with Helen Wilson - 4th October 2015

Having spent a number of sessions over the summer trying greenland rolls, I took up the opportunity for some expert tuition with Helen Wilson from who was in the country and running courses over the weekend.

So on a nice still Anglesey morning, four students including myself started off the day on Rhoscolyn beach with some yoga as a warm-up.

Warm-up yoga session - photo credit: Mark Tozer
The group had various levels of rolling experience, with all of us having successfully rolled in the past, but Helen still started off with the basics to ensure we removed any bad habits. Helen broke the roll down into its constituent parts and we did various exercises, initially without boats and paddles, and then progressing to performing "balance braces".

Wot? No boats? - photo credit: Mark Tozer
I'd tried to do a balance brace before, but never managed it purely with a paddle - I needed to use my airbags, but with Helen's help I managed to get into a stable position laying flat on the water using only my paddle for additional buoyancy.

We then took turns with individual tuition from Helen, and my basic greenland roll was OK, so we moved on to my goal of developing my forward finishing rolls, namely the storm roll and the reverse sweep.

To learn the storm roll, you start with what's known as the "continuous storm roll". This entails capsizing with the paddle already in a perpendicular position and ensuring the end of the paddle stays in contact with the upturned hull. The idea then is to use a "pry" technique to right the kayak, keeping in a forward tucked position and using the boat as a fulcrum for the paddle. I started this manoeuvre off with a paddle float to give me additional buoyancy, but progressed to performing the roll without it.

Photo credit: Mark Tozer
Once having mastered the "continuous" version Helen took me through a transition roll where I capsized as normal, but brought the paddle round to a perpendicular position before executing the pry. Again, the main tactic required was to get the paddle resting on the hull and staying in contact with the boat as I righted it.

Finally I moved on to the storm roll proper, where the first part of the roll is a sweep followed by a pry to complete the roll.

After a reasonable amount of success with the storm roll, Helen then tried to teach me the reverse sweep. I didn't get too far with this as I was now getting a bit tired and lacking the energy for a strong "crunch" action to right the boat with the required leg action. So I called it a day a little early and went for a more relaxing paddle around the Beacon to finish up.

I learnt a lot and it was great to meet Helen (and Mark again). Hopefully I'll be able to practice a bit more in pool sessions over the winter.

Hmmm... not sure about the skull cap! - Photo credit: Mark Tozer

Monday, 28 September 2015

Macclesfield Canal - 27th September 2015

Training paddle from the boathouse to Higher Poynton Marina and back. Lots of barges out, so a number of delays at bridges. Out in 47:40, back in just over 52, but had at least 5 boat delays on the return, one of which was a bit close for comfort as I over-estimated the size of a gap between two barges!

Macclesfield Canal Hare and Hounds - 13th September 2015

September club handicap "Hare and Hounds" race over 4 miles. Finished with a time of 41.14, exactly the same as the last time I did the race in March, 7th position.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Loch Bracadale and Wiay Island followed by Colbost in Loch Dunvegan - 31st August 2015

The wind had now swung around to a N 4-5, so I thought the SW facing Loch Bracadale would be a good location.

We launched from the pebble beach at Balmore and headed out to cross to the sandy beach on the N end of Harlosh Island.

Unfortunately my theory on Loch Bracadale being sheltered didn't hold out, and the wind was blowing off the land causing choppy conditions with short swell and whitecaps, So we agreed I'd go around Wiay by myself.

Looking S from the E side of Harlosh
The N'erly wind quickly blew me the 4 kilometres down to the W side of Wiay and the headland of Rubha Garbh. Once around the headland, I was in the lee of the island and the calm water allowed me to admire the cliff scenery and explore the large cave on the S end of the island.

Looking from Wiay to Macleod's Maidens in the distance
Approaching the large cave on Wiay

After taking a few photos I made may way round the island and headed back towards Harlosh. With the wind now pretty much on my face, this turned out to be a bit of a slog with water splashing up off the deck. A fishing boat passed by quite close - initially a bit scary because I was worried he hadn't seen me, but once I knew he was going to pass behind me it was re-assuring to see someone else out on the water.

I headed back for a short stop and to meet back up on the beach on Harlosh and then after a brief exploration of the loch near our launch spot we headed back to Balmore and drove back to Dunvegan. About 16km paddled.

Back near Dunvegan, the small islands and skerries on the Colbost side of Loch Dunvegan looked inviting in the afternoon sunshine, so we went back on the water for a short paddle in amongst the various groups of seals. Definitely more nervous than the seals on Anglesey, the seals would enter the water if they saw us getting too close and then follow us around keeping a safe distance. At one point there must have been at least 20-25 seals bobbing around behind us!

Chilling out!
Looking across Loch Dunvegan with our rental house in the distance

Loch Dunvegan and Iosaigh - 30th August 2015

After our first night in the rented house (we had plumped for decadence rather than battling the rain and midges) we made plans for our first full day on Skye.

Conditions were still a bit blustery with a SW 4-5 wind and occasional showers. We couldn't decide whether to paddle or walk. Neither of us wanted to spend any more time in the car after the long journey north, so in the end we split up and I paddled from near Dunvegan Castle down and around the island of Iosaigh (Isay).

Looking across Loch Dunvegan
The launch spot was ideal, but it did put me right in amongst the seal colony around Gairgh Eilein. Not wanting to disturb the seals nor incur the wrath of the boatmen running seal watching trips from the castle, I gave the seals a wide berth and doubled back into the main loch before heading NW.

Sunshine alternated with the odd shower, but it was nice to be on the sea again with the magnificent gannets fishing around me.

I passed the fish farm, and the house we were staying in. and made my way down to the tidal island of Lampay and the Coral beaches. Conditions were a bit choppy, but around the NW side of the beach that connects Lampay to the mainland I found shelter and was followed by an inquisitive seal.

After a quick stop, I headed back out and started my clockwise loop around Iosaigh. The island has a rather gruesome history, and here is the story according to Wikipedia:

In the 16th century the main house on the island was inhabited by the MacLeods of Lewis, and it was here that Roderick Macleod of Lewis ('Nimheach' - the venomous) implemented his plan to ensure that his grandson would inherit Raasay and the lands of Gairloch. He convened the two powerful families (names do not appear to have been recorded) of the time at Isay house for a banquet which he suggested was to inform them of good news. During the feast he invited each person present to accompany him outside of the banquet hall in order to inform them of this news. Upon leaving the hall the victim was promptly stabbed to death. In this way both families were wiped out

Uninhabitated now, there are only ruined blackhouses and the more substantial main house remaining.

Looking S with Iosaigh on my right
Lunch stop on Iosaigh looking E
After a short lunch on the E side of the island, I headed back up Loch Dunvegan and was lucky enough to encounter an otter swimming just off Lampay. I took the shortest route back into the pebbly beach were I had launched from. With the low tide, the narrow channels took me very close to some of the seals hauled up on the rocks. Surprisingly, the closer I passed to the seals, the less jumpy they seemed to be. Perhaps from a distance I looked more of a threatening shape and more of the seals entered the water - or maybe they were just inquisitive?

The view from the house with Lampay and Iosaigh in the near distance and the hills of Harris on the horizon
Err... not quite the original tent that we first planned!
About 4 hours paddling, 22km distance. First significant paddle using my greenland stick.

Loch Moidart - 29th August 2015

We'd travelled up from Macclesfield the night before and found an excellent B&B near Roshven on Loch Ailort. We were en route to Skye via the Mallaig ferry, originally planning to stop over in Fort William, but sunshine on the Corran lighthouse tempted us to take the ferry and the scenic route around Ardgour/Moidart/Sunart. We stopped off in the Glenuig Inn for something to eat, and sought advice for a sheltered place for a paddle in the morning hoping to get out of the blustery SW wind.

Glen Coe in dramatic light on the drive up
Corran lighthouse
So based on the info received, we launched into the outgoing tide at the small roadside jetty on Loch Moidart. Paddling leisurely, we made our way down the loch admiring the wooded banks and the numerous herons. We didn't particularly have any objectives apart from visiting the ruins of Castle Tioram. Once we had passed the castle we decided to have a look up the River Shiel estuary towards the rapid that marks the end of the tidal section.

Castle Tioram
Conditions were overcast and not that warm when caught in the wind, so we called it a day and started making our way back to the jetty. The tide was still going out, so now we were trying to avoid the main flow, but this was complicated by the fact that large parts of the loch were now drying out, and a few times we thought we might be walking. Luckily we managed to pick a route with just enough water and packed up to head on up to the Mallaig ferry and our accommodation on Skye.

Macclesfield Canal - 23rd August 2015

K1 session from the boathouse to Higher Poynton Marina and back again. About 53 minutes each way at a steady pace.

Brereton Rolling Sessions - August 2015

Spent another couple of thursday nights greenland rolling (13th & 20th). Made some progress on the left hand rolls, slowing them down and improving the technique. Right hand side pry roll becoming more reliable, but still not making much progress on any form of forward finishing sweep roll.

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.