Sunday, 20 April 2014

Orkney History Tour

World War Two towers at Houton look out over Bring Deeps.
 A gentle 15km trip to start  the paddling season off in fine weather from Houton at Scapa Flow into the Loch of Stenness. After leaving Houton we passed the three lookout towers which are situated on one side of the Flow. Between Houton Head and Scad Head in Hoy, there were anti ship and submarine boom defence nets during the war the Second World War.  

Clear water and cold clear air. Great visibility above and below the surface.
It was unusually still and quiet - after months of incessant wind and rain it was unusual to hear sounds of so many birds - fulmars, swans, eider, merganser, shell ducks, gannets, black throated diver, greylag geese, redshank, turnstones, cormorants...
 The clarity of the water was mermerising. Tiny jellyfish bobbed along with the incoming tide.

Hall of Clestrain
 We passed the birthplace of the famous Arctic explorer John Rae.
He grew up here and developed his sailing skills in Scapa Flow.
Hoy hills.
 We stopped at Sailhouse Bay below the Hall of Clestrain. This must surely have been where John Rae and his brothers launched their sailing boats from, before racing each other between Orphir and Stromness.
Sailhouse Bay, with Hoy High Light on Graemsay, and Hoy behind.

Stromness ahead with the gateway to the Nor' Wast through Hoy Sound on the horizon. 
 On past a few sleeping seals on the skerries and beaches up to the Brig O'Waithe, observed briefly from the water by an otter which was gone as soon as I was certain it was indeed an otter and not a piece of kelp or a young seal. In fact it was the movements and manner of its disappearance that made me pretty certain it was an otter.

Easily under the Brig
 Around the corner and on to the Standing Stones of Stenness with a brisker pace for a change, just to check paddle fitness, or lack of...

 I have always meant to take this route -  there is something novel about paddling from salt water to fresh on an island with no rivers - a uniquely Orcadian trip, paddling past remnants of  WWII, the days of Hudson's Bay Company, to the neolithic.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Getting there...

Getting ready for the year ahead involves a lot of reviewing of resources, including time... Living up here on a peripheral archipelago means every trip planned takes extra time, and money, and is even more weather dependent.
Once upon a time Orkney was the centre of things - a kind of hub in the sea road...

Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina 1539
Now a different Magnus helps us get across the Pentland Firth ...

Magnus 'the Viking' - the new Hamnavoe livery.
Gear and equipment for trips needs to be checked over too after a winter in the store. This year it was time to splash out a bit on some new Lomo boots. Mary, I am finally stepping out of your second hand boots (one of which, presumed lost, lived in a creel for a winter until found the following summer)!
Knowledge of First Aid needs refreshing and reviewing.
Thank you George Fell.
First Aid Kit before ................and after George's course.

Getting kayaks down the road also has its issues that need to be resolved. The van is a great mobile home, but its a bit high for me to wrangle boats on to safely. So this winter the day finally came for the Karitek kayak carrier to be fitted.
With a bit of modification here and there I think I've got it sorted.

 I'm getting there...

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Kayak yoga

This winter in the pool I have been helping a couple of folk play with floating and sinking. Its a great feeling when you can confidently turn your kayak over on yourself and then come gently back up to the surface, and it helps to build in the idea that the water is your friend and will support you if you let it. It is no coincidence that the most successful first attempts at this are by people who are already supple and flexible and perhaps do yoga.
On nights where it is my turn, I work through my rolling list a bit like a yoga sequence - first one side then the other - paying attention to correct posture, and of course breathing at appropriate points... 

It doesn't always go smoothly. One week a particular roll is simple enough to do. The next week it can be troublesome.

A lot of the time there is an underwater 'cat' lurking at the end of the pool, just thinking it through...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Forward finish Friday

This week everyone returned to try out forward finish rolls. We don't have a lot of time so our sessions are really an introduction to the fundamentals, with hopefully enough drills to take away and practice. It was invaluable to be able to look at Cheri's and Turner's DVD 'This is The Roll'  - which explains how to use a Euro blade to build up the reverse sweep and the storm roll - before getting kayaks into the pool. I don't have enough Greenland paddles to share out or loan to folk who want to try them and most folk want to try to use their Euro blade, at least to begin with. However, it does seem that sometimes it can be easier to learn something new and different about rolling with an unfamilar paddle in your hands - its as if having your Euro paddle makes it hard to undo a learned response and muscle memory when it comes to being upside down.

Cheri and Turner demonstrate and explain forward finish on land at Loch Eck.

After last week's session we were able to revisit the basics of body position and have a go at recovering with the avataq or paddle float on to the front deck and had a go at a pry using a Euro blade, then a continuous storm roll was the drill everyone wanted to try. With just enough time to get orientated underwater we never got round to the full storm roll.
Doing something different is good fun though.

The outcome of these two sessions has been very positive. The Euro roll and the Greenland roll have been compared and discussed a lot.  It  was observed that Greenland style rolling is more to do with taking your time underwater, being well-orientated and using the support of the water in contrast to getting round, out and up asap, though a storm roll can be surprisingly quick and effective.

I hope everything we have done continues to help folk have fun playing with rolling whatever blade we end up using, and wherever we end up using it. We were using big blades in flat water so here is the very opposite for a bit of inspiration - James Manke tackling whitewater with a GP on his trip down the Grand Canyon.

James Manke... Grand Canyon... Sea Kayak... Greenland Paddle... Worked! from Kayaka on Vimeo.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


Mentoring experienced paddlers and coaches is a great opportunity to share some of the skills and drills that help us, and the paddlers we coach, understand how important body position is in any type of roll, Euro or Greenland. I realise that everytime I do this I understand better the differences between the two types of roll. This time I've thought a lot about how paddle design, how and where it is gripped, where the blade travels, feather and so on can influence body position.

From the outset the avataq has been invaluable. It has really allowed folk to good feel for how body position and edging the kayak relate as you open out  from 'cat' to 'cow' in the standard Greenland roll.

With some more pool time, the avataq would be great for playing around with this movement without a paddle, gradually working towards using body movement alone for recovery. 
An avataq is not a piece of equipment that you really need, it can 'sort of' be substituted for with a paddle float or inflated wine bags in a net bag, but it is nice to be able to use and share an understanding of another authentic piece of equipment.