Monday, 5 November 2007

Anatomy of a trashing

As mentioned in yesterday's post, I had a thorough trashing on a reef break. I lost my spare paddle (a nice Double Dutch slalom C1 blade), a handheld flare from my buoyancy aid front pocket and my camelback water carrier from the back pocket. Thinking things over, I only rolled six times rather than seven but there was an element of luck in the fact that I got away without injury or more serious losses. I hope that my lost kit will be found by someone that can make use of it!

The initial cause of the trashing was simple; I was playing chicken with a fairly substantial reef break and sitting looking at the scenery at the same time. I like views along the coast with some breaking surf in the near foreground, but it is important to keep watching out for freak sets of waves.

I noticed a large wave coming in that could present a problem, so I turned and paddled into it. My relief at reaching the crest didn't last for long; a second wave of a similar size was right behind it and I could see a third wave over the top of it that was even bigger and already starting to break. I made it over the second wave but lost all my speed. The third wave looped me over the back as I tried to climb the vertical face.

I had a washing machine experience in the ensuing bongo slide, repeatedly rolling and then getting power-flipped. It took most of my strength to keep hold of my paddles and I was glad of the ocean cockpit that made it very unlikely that I would get dragged out of the boat. The wave was still too steep for me to really get back in control until I found myself in relatively calm conditions after the sixth roll. Thankfully, I was still about fifteen or twenty yards from the pinnacle of rock that marks the reef and had time to get off the wave and turn the boat around before the next wave.

I rode out a few waves while I got my breath back and secured some of my remaining gear. There was no sign of the items that had gone. I spotted a nice little rip going out alongside the reef and used it to get out beyond the break without any further incident.

I had a number of items of luck:
1) I got trashed on the last wave of the big set, so there was plenty of water on the reef from the earlier waves.
2) The water was deep enough for the boat to loop without hitting anything (not entirely luck - smaller waves had been passing over this area without breaking, so there was at least depth equivalent to their height).
3) My map and GPS, inside an aquapac, were properly secured.
4) There were no rocks sticking up (again, not entirely luck - the reefs along here tend to be slabs).
5) My paddle didn't snap, despite taking a lot of force (not entirely luck - I did a controlled release of the paddle shaft with one hand at one point to let it twirl around, taking the pressure off the paddle and allowing a reverse screw roll with the other end).

Lessons learned:
1) Secure all your gear, even if the conditions are good. I had just tucked my spare blade under some deck elastics rather than using my usual approach of 2-inch webbing with a quick-release buckle. My BA pockets have fixing points with cords attached but I hadn't bothered to tie in my flare or water carrier.
2) Keep an eye out to sea no matter how nice the view is! There can be freak sets even on a relatively calm day.
3) You are always on your own in the surf zone of a rocky shore. There is no way that anyone else should endanger themselves by coming in after you. I was very aware of the need to stay in my boat and keep hold of my paddles.
4) A reef break is generally steeper and more powerful than the break on a nice sandy beach. I think that it's faster too - my GPS registered a maximum speed of 22kmph. While I am sure that this is far from accurate, it felt to be about the right ballpark!

I got away with this through a combination of luck and experience. Years of playing and rolling in the surf meant that I had a good idea of what was going on even while I was been tumbled around. My roll is still good; all of the rolls in this case were on my weak side. The skills are still there to allow me to get off the wave before getting into the shallow water where there might have been problems of boat damage or difficulties in turning the boat around. Kit helped too; the boat is fitted out for me with a snug seat, solid knee tube to brace against, small cockpit opening and a bulkhead footrest.

The adrenaline rush and the sense of euphoria immediately after getting away with such a trashing is tremendous. However, I have too many responsibilities these days for me to be happy with taking these risks. I wouldn't intentionally repeat the exercise because I don't like to trust to my luck.

Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay

The Sunday paddle from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay and back was magnificent; porpoises, an alleged peregrine, seals, a nice little surf at the turnaround and a thorough trashing on a reef break. Sadly, I have no photos because some water got into my camera when I was rinsing it off after the Saturday paddle.

The trashing is just about visible on the GPS track: the line going onto the rocks about 2.5km from Whitby on the return leg. It was slightly expensive (lost paddle, flare and camelback) but most invigorating.
The facilities at the marina in Whitby made things very civilised. There were handy taps for fresh water, reasonably secure parking and nice clean toilets and showers.

We paddled as a group of six, which I believe to be the ideal number for such a trip.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Whitby to Runswick Bay

We had a paddle from Whitby to the edge of Runswick Bay as part of the NWSK end of season meet. Caution was the order of the day, with a fairly strong breeze and a rather messy mixture of chop and swell. Our original plan to paddle to Robin Hood's Bay was dropped because we felt that it was better to start out against the weather, making the return easier.
We got on at the marina in Whitby:
and then paddled through the harbour to get to the sea:
We took a break at Sandsend, landing through small but very dumpy surf:
My newly repaired IceFloe looked very nice sitting on the sand in the sunlight:
The paddle off towards Runswick Bay gave some nice views:
Getting back to Whitby:

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Tidal Exe

We had a pleasant paddle down the Exe from Countess Wear to Turf Locks and then back up the canal. The weather was good, with the gentle wind blowing us along the canal to match the assistance that we had from the tide going down the river.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Flamborough Head

The second paddle of the day was planned for Flamborough Head. We went a little further than we originally intended because the morning paddle at Spurn Head had been dropped.

See Jim's blog for his account of the day.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Spurn Head

Jim and I were hoping to launch at Spurn Head to have a look around the Humber Estuary. We had a change of plan after a chat with the warden of the nature reserve and an inspection of alternate launching sites.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have a warden in the area of Spurn Head. Andrew Gibson is the Outer Humber Officer with whom we had a chat.

The two important items that Andy Gibson told me with regard to sea kayaking at Spurn Head are:
1) No launching within the nature reserve.
2) Unusually, the nature reserve owns the foreshore down to the LOW tide line. Landing is not permitted, other than in an emergency.

Andy and his staff were very friendly and helpful. They are generally sympathetic towards sea kayaking and other low impact activities. However, they cannot be seen to set a precedent that might open the gates to all manner of craft.

Alternate launching sites were either too muddy at the state of tide when we planned to launch or too far from the forts that we had intended to visit (given that we only planned a short paddle).

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Blackpool Illuminations

I had to agree immediately when JimK of NWSK suggested the daft idea of a night paddle to see the Blackpool illuminations. In the end, there were ten paddlers meeting at the southern end of Blackpool for a trip up to the North Pier and back.
It was a bit of a trudge to the water - we got on at mid-tide:
It was still light when we set out:
But it started to get dark quite quickly:

Jim was one of the organisers of the trip:
and Peter was the other:
We all carried head torches as well as using light sticks. Some of us also had more powerful torches tucked away in our kit. However, the light sticks were enough on this occasion.
My thanks to Jim and Peter for a very enjoyable evening, even if it did make my head cold come back with a vengeance!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Macclesfield Canal

I met up again with Richard, a friend from university, for a paddle with the kids. I took Lojska along and Richard took both of his daughters. The venue was a new one for me - the only part of the Macclesfield Canal that I have paddled before is where all the locks are at Marple. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the Macclesfield Canal is another example of a canal with a long section that has no locks.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Lymm and Thelwall

An early morning paddle makes a good start to the weekend. On this occasion it was a 16km paddle on the Bridgewater Canal, going out to Thelwall and back:
The canal is pretty quiet at 7:30am, giving a pleasant view from the cockpit:
There was a light breeze but the reflections were impressive when the wind died down:
I was paddling at a gentle pace, taking nearly two hours to complete the distance. As a result of the pace and the early start, there was a fair bit of wildlife to be seen. This included a kingfisher; these birds seem to be getting relatively common along this canal.

Sunday, 16 September 2007


I missed last year's Sea Quest event, so it was very pleasant to be able to turn up with Jim and his double sea kayak. The sea kayak entry was rather low this year and we were able to win rather comfortably with a time that must be about half an hour slower than the course record. The event was started by one of the local dignitaries (who waited patiently when the tide was a little later than expected):
We started in nice, sunny conditions:
Jim planned the start thoroughly:
We had time for some photos at the halfway point, showing the plastic goose that was the real winner of the event:
Looking back from the finish we could see that the weather was on the turn: The wind started to get up after we finished, giving the open boaters an interesting time. We went back out to take some photos. Phil, one of the organisers of the Ravenglass Seaquest event, had a good result:
The best thing about being faster than the pack was that we had time to nip back to Knott End for ice-cream before attending the prize giving. The event was well organised throughout and the food that was laid on at the prize giving was a good finishing touch. A second surprise bonus was to find that the event sponsorship by Brookbank Canoes included some vouchers for the prize winners.

The event raised a good sum for its chosen cancer charity. My thanks go to Peter Roscoe and the Outdoor Adventure Group for a great day out.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

End of the holidays

Robbie starts school tomorrow, so I took him out for a nice quiet paddle on the canal. Only did 7km but had lots of blackberries. The rowing club were out in force between Walton Road and Altrincham but everyone was polite and friendly.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Icefloe in the canal

I took my "new" sea kayak for an early morning paddle along the Bridgewater canal, going up towards town from Walton Road to where the three arms of the canal meet. This boat is noticeably faster than my old Perception Carolina but there is a lot of work to be done on it.

My GPS (Garmin Foretrex 201) locked up on me for the first time ever. I managed to force it to reset by holding all the buttons down. I'm guessing that it didn't like the change of location from Denmark (where I used it for a 15km run on Wednesday).

There was a lot of floating rubbish in the canal, including some large pieces of timber that could damage a boat.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Rolling and rescues at Sale WP

Four paddlers from NWSK turned up for an after-work rolling and rescues session at Sale Water Park. We had a general paddle around and lots of rolling, including re-entry and roll practice. Some Eskimo and X rescues were performed when the rolling didn't go quite to plan.

A bonus of paying to use the facilities at Sale was that the excellent showers kept us from smelling of dirty water when we went to the pub!

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Kids on the canal

I met up with an old friend from university after work today. Until very recently, we hadn't spoken to each other in years but it turns out that we have children of similar ages and with similar interests. We decided that a paddle on the canal in double boats would be a good idea.

We paddled from Walton Park to Dunham and back:
This paddle should take an hour and a half or less. We took over two and a half hours - the kids were playing around, picking blackberries and generally having fun. It was a good evening.

We used a pair of Perception Horizon double touring boats. These are big and stable but relatively quick. My three year old was wearing a life jacket and the two five year olds used buoyancy aids.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Runswick Bay to Staithes

Jim, Mike and I finished the weekend with a short paddle from Runswick Bay to Staithes, leaving the dog with Kirstine:
By some miracle, we managed to get on the water exactly at our planned time of 7:30am:
The weather was perfect and there were a few small waves to play on. Unfortunately, our plans for a full breakfast in Staithes were scuppered by the fact that very little opens until 10:00am. We managed to get some oranges and bananas from a small butcher's shop.

A little rolling practice to finish showed the dangers of trying a roll on your off-side in a borrowed plastic barge after a two-year break from paddling:
(Mike's first roll, on the right hand side, worked perfectly.)

It was a nice end to the weekend before the Bank Holiday drive home - our thanks go to Kirstine for the dog minding service!

[Photos by Jim.]

Runswick Bay to Saltburn

Ten paddlers from NWSK set off from Runswick Bay at about 9:30am on the Sunday of the Bank Holiday weekend. With complete disregard for tradition, the weather was beautiful. The scenery was beautiful too, particularly when compared to some of the more dishevelled and hungover paddlers.
The group split at Skinningrove, with four of us continuing to Saltburn-by-the-Sea while the rest had a protracted lunch break and another stop at the tea room in Staithes on the way back. The first map gives a rough idea of our route:Our first stop was Staithes, on a (successful) mission to find tea and ice creams:
A minor incident on the reef outside Staithes started from the first paddler paying more attention to conversation than to the possibility of breaking waves. We had a second swimmer when another paddler in the group was too busy watching the first swimmer to pay attention to the possibility of breaking waves! Everything was sorted out fairly swiftly and without injury to people or boats.

The paddle past big cliffs on the way to Skinningrove was uneventful but very pleasant:
Skinningrove to Saltburn-by-the-Sea was a short jaunt around the next headland:
The beach at Saltburn was remarkably busy. We struggled to find a place to land without risk to swimmers, although some rather selfish and thoughtless jetskiers didn't seem to find it a problem to simply frighten the swimmers out of the water.
All told, it was a fairly long paddle. The estimate for the round trip was about 38km but I imagine that the actual distance paddled was over 40km.

The plans for a night paddle were dropped through apathy - the call of a pub meal was too strong.