Friday, 18 November 2011

A late afternoon paddle along the Purbeck Coast

On a late September weekend  I was busying myself working in my office because Mandy was away visiting family in Kent. On the Sunday I kept looking at weather wondering if I should drop everything and go for a paddle. There was a strong NW wind meaning that a drive to Lulworth Cove would provide shelter close in from the high Cliffs. I was really involved in what ever I was working on, by finally decided to go for it. 

I arrived at Lulworth at 3pm. Lulworth has an expensive car park and you have to trolley your kayak down to the cove. I use an old trolley that I can lock on the chains on the beach as this saves carrying it with me. 

The tides dictated it would be better to paddle East towards Kimmeridge. It was unusually quite in the cove for a Sunday. This already felt like it was going to be one of those special relaxing paddles. I headed out of the cove and turned East along the army gunnery ranges which were closed as usual on the weekend. I soon reached the Mupe Rocks. I love this rugged area and it has long been a favourite kayak diving spot for me. 

 Mupe Rocks

Mupe Rocks

Once past the Mupe Rocks I pulled up on the beach and kitted up for a bit of free diving. After a nice brew and a bite to eat to warm up, I head on towards Worbarrow. I passed the beach with a deserted army tank standing guard. It seems a bit spooky as there are also a few destroyed targets in the surround hills. With no one around it seems like you have arrived in a post apocalyptic war zone. This feels even stranger by fact that it is surrounded by so much beauty. 

 Mupe Beach

 Mupe Rocks in the disrance

Mupe to Worbarrow

They sea was deceptively calm close in, but every now and then I would be hit hard by a strong gusting down draft off the cliffs that was sometimes almost strong enough to snatch the paddle from my hands.

Worrbarrow Tout

Binden Hill with sea caves below


If Ratty from 'Wind in the Willows' had discovered kayaking he would have said... "There is simply nothing half as good as messing about in caves"

As I returned to Lulworth Cove it was getting dark. I pulled my kayak ashore and sat for a while to savour the moment; reflecting on another great paddle.

Avon River Access

The battle for fair use and access to England's rivers is hotting up in our local area. When I moved 6 miles inland to the Ringwood area of the New Forest I was struck by the expanse of rivers and several lakes in the area. I h love to be near the water and was shocked that considering how much local water there is, that the public cannot get close to most of it let alone walk the banks or dare I say paddle.

Recently a growing group of kayakers have been testing the rights with protest paddles. To say that the reactions from local fisherman and some landowners has been aggressive, it putting it mildly. Threats with shotguns and the use of wire across the river has been reported.

Water sports such as kayaking and diving are in rapid growth and now rival fishing as popular activities. This has always been the case in most European countries and yet they co-exist peaceably. In fact it is only England and Wales that use draconian laws to restrict, public right of way to little more than 3%. When I discuss this with  fishermen they seem to get very defensive and hot under the collar. The usual comment is "you have the whole sea to use, why do you have to paddle on the river". Naturally the reverse rule should then apply, but fisherman have the choice without restriction. There reality is that most kayakers only use the coast where the land joins the sea and I have even experienced and witnessed friction from a few fisherman even along the coast. After over 20 years of paddling through the Mudeford run from harbour to the sea or back many kayakers (including myself) rightly avoid the narrow main boat channel by cut tight around the Spit. There have been many more anglers of the Spit this year, some of whom now think they have sole rights to this spot judging by the looks and the odd abusive comments. I have been a keen free diver for many years and the same problem exist as fishermen take almost every decent rugged access point. I have nothing against angling, but we all have to respect that we deserve the same freedoms.

Here is an interesting video of Matt Baker's TV documentary highlight the problems of Avon River access. The points about disturbing wildlife do not stack up. I have never got so close to wildlife as when I quietly paddle. I would understand resistance to a large group of paddlers churning away in a small area, but a small group just gently passing through should not be a problem,  

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Poole Harbour paddle with  Seals, Salmon and Deer

I got up early one balmy 2011 June morning to take advantage the tides and the one day weather window. I planned to paddle all the backwaters that I tend not to visit so often.

I was on the the water at Lake Pier at 6am. I was a little surprised to see another Sea Kayak and a Ausie on an Ocean Ski had beaten me to the water. My thoughts as I set out lucky I am to live so near to such a stunning setting and it is magical enough to stir the soul at this time in the morning.

A quiet calm beach at Arne

I headed across to Arne point and then SW to the Moors. As I turned the corner, there were 2 deer in the water. I carefully tried to get my camera out to take some picks, but they were down wind and spooked. Later, I managed to catch a shot of a youngster.

A young deer swimming off Arne

As I headed towards the River Piddle what looked like a huge Salmon jumped well clear of the water, just as it was about to land back in the water a seal popped up to catch it. I snapped away as the seal boldly showed off her catch. Sadly there was something on the lens of my iphone case and all the earlier shots came out blurred.

 If you zoom in you can just about see the salmon in the seals mouth

This was the only shot left of the seal with the now it was too far away. for a while the seal brought the salmon alongside the kayak as if showing off her catch.

I had seen seals in Poole Harbour before, but it was later in the day when there was activity on the water and I was paddling with someone else who was not patient enough to just sit quietly for a while. I had learnt this patience with wildlife as a diver. Everyone seemed to be busy getting from A to B in an attempt to see as much as possible. I found it was always more rewarding to pick my spot, relax my breathing and wait. After a minute or two, wildlife would come in to inspect me rather than me chasing them. 

I relaxed and waited patiently, just watching from a good distance. Gradually the seal came closer as it became curious and more confident.

As you can see she became very curious and at one stage even tried to get on board, I had to grab my paddle to quickly brace otherwise I would have been to the same spot at the seal. 
After 5 hours paddling, I made a brew on the beach and reflected on my earlier statement as I set off. Magical moments in a magical place.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Point 65 XP18 Spyder

The Spyder is an open cockpit racing style sea kayak manufacture in Sweden. I have been trying to find one in the UK so that I can have a look, or better still, have test paddle. Sadly, all avenues have led to a dead end so far. The Spyder has a pronounced Swede form that is very similar to my own 25 year old design. I like the fact that is also has scuppers that drain through forward motion. I am not sure if these have a one way valve though.

Notice I use the term open cockpit as opposed to the popular term "sit on top" (SOT). Like my own design, the Spyder has an open seating pod that puts the paddler in pretty much the same position as a conventional sit in sea kayak allowing similar handling characteristics. This is very different to the SOTs made popular by Ocean Kayaks. I therefore feel a distinction should be made. SOT's are necessarily wider to cope with the higher seating position and allow drainage through simple scupper holes. An open cockpit such as in the Spyder needs a self draining venturi scupper so as not to be constantly sitting in water.

I will contact Point 65 directly to find out who is likely to stock a Spyder in the UK. 

 XP18 in a small surf

Breaking news
I have a local contact who says he will a test Spyder in a couple of weeks time. Watch this space :)

Monday, 14 November 2011

A stunning winters day out at Christchurch

I woke up on Saturday morning to a surprisingly mild pleasant November day. I normally phone around to see who is up for a paddle, but this can lead to long delays waiting for a reply. It was early (7pm) so I guessed no one would be up yet anyway. I waxed my drysuit zips as I had not used it since early season and I wanted to practise rolling as I had not done so for a couple of months. I was ready to launch at the Wick Lane slipway by 8am.

Wick Lane slipway

It was very quite and relaxing. No panic to launch because others are waiting etc. I took time to reflect on how this secret little slipway was always quite. Today there are generally all sorts of craft launching and recovering here. Even some larger boats trying to avoid the parking charges at the main public slipway on the opposite bank.The tranquillity was then interrupted by a passing jogger. In a broad Scottish accent he stops to ask "How much are those long thin boats". We enter into the usual discussion  about the merits of different kayaks etc. Shocked at the price of a carbon kevlar sea kayak, he jogs on to ponder.

Paddling down the river, I could not believe how warm it was in the sun. The dry suit seems not such a good idea. I would needed to roll regularly just to cool off. The harbour is like glass with just a few rowers on the water for and early morning workout.

 Landing at the Mudeford spit.

The snacks shop is closed, but the staff at the Beach House restaurant make me a lovely bacon roll. Ah, this is the life. I chilled out for a while, before heading out to sea to want sounds like surf. 

It was a white water push out though the run, but it eased off once round the point onto the seaward side of Mudeford Spit. There were a clean sets of surf coming in at a diagonal to the beach. The waves were only a couple of feet high at most, but clean enough to give some long gentle rides and practise cutting in and out. I took the opportunity to practise rolling at different angles to the waves.

It was a one off stunning day amongst the unsettled weather. You have to just grab it while it is there. I could not believe how quiet the beach was. This is why I love this time of year. 

  The low sun gives that lovely evening light all day

 Glassy Christchurch Harbour looking towards Mudeford Spit

Glassy Christchurch Harbour looking towards Christchurch Quay

Arriving back at the quiet slip

One of those magical days that I would have missed if I did not take the chance by just going for it. I feel so lucky to live so near to this spot at my most local paddle. One of the joys of winter paddling is getting home tingling after a great day out and snuggling up by the fire cuddled up with my good lady and Hungarian Vizsla dogs Eszti and Bodhi.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

An unconventional Start to Sea Kayaking

I got into kayaking back in 1980 via an unusual route. As a keen diver, I wanted a way of free diving along the stunning local Purbeck Coast and for my many trip down to Cornwall. At a time when SOT kayaks were unheard of in the UK and having been a boat builder, I fancied making my own SOT composite kayak based on a traditional sea kayak design. I looked around for a sea kayak that would have the basics that I needed before converting it into a SOT. After talks with Valley Kayaks, I decide to get mouldings of their discontinued Selkie Rescue Kayak. The extreme Swede form provided a perfect base for my build.

I elongated the stern, completely redesigned the mid section and aft deck and designed and fitted a sit on pod. I played around the pod position to get the best balance in the boat. What I now had was a fast sit on sea kayak that was light weight, provided enough buoyancy in the stern to carry a fully rigged dive cylinder. I now had the perfect craft for my needs.

This is all very unorthodox (even today) but you can imagine how both the diving and the kayak community viewed it all those years ago. This led to me basically diving and paddling solo in less populated areas to avoid attention. Despite this, I can honestly say that I have had my best dives in this way and managed to paddle virtually the whole Dorset, Devon and Cornish coast over the last 20 years or so. I even managed to paddle over to the Scilly Isles with this craft 14 years ago although not solo this time. I have also circumnavigated the IOW 3 times solo.

I call the this kayak a Selkie as the legend of the half human, half seal fits its use well.

Having now got into traditional sea kayaking and had the opportunity to paddle and compare many of the well know sea kayaks, I am surprised at just how sea worthy and fast my Selkie is. With a lap strap, I can perform all the paddle stokes, braces and even roll.

Which do I prefer? It depends on what I want to do :))