Monday, 28 December 2009

Land lubber

Hoy from the Ring of Brodgar.
With significant amounts of help I stumbled around the icy ancient monument hoping I wouldn't have to explain myself in the casualty department later. One of the attractions of being in the outdoors (tenuous link to kayaking there) in Orkney is the big skyscapes.
At this time of year they are brief but can be dramatic.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Weather window

The view from Aikerness on a cold but beautiful Boxing Day walk/physio session.

This was GB's classroom earlier in the year.
Eynhallow is on the horizon.

Hopefully next time I'm out there I can test out my Christmas present and publish the results here.
I think I may need a little help from a northern geophysicist (or should that be geo-physician?).

Monday, 21 December 2009

Winter training

Despite having had a broken ankle I have resumed my regular swimming routine. In fact as soon as the cast was off I was back in the pool. My turnip shaped (and coloured) foot became a sight pool staff became innured to. To begin with just getting to the edge of the pool was tough and a journey fraught with hazards. However after dragging myself painully around on dry land it was a liberation to be immersed and unable to fall over or lose balance with unthinkable consequences. For weeks now I have been able to swim faster than I can walk. In fact in 20minutes I swim about 1km, I just couldn't walk that far in any amount of time.

This winter swimming training is motivated by a desire to keep up strength and stamina needed for kayaking, and I do it every winter never mind the state of my bones. What has been interesting to me has been how my swimming fitness has been improved by my ankle fracture. Naturally more inclined to pull than kick, this has been magnified by ankle pain.

As the weeks go by I kick more easily and am returning to a more balanced stroke. I am convinced that swimming in a technically correct way will enhance paddling. Body rotation, reach and catch are all mirrored in swimming. Feel for the water is developed. Breathing is balanced and rythmical. Transfer of energy is a continuous process. Turning involves changing direction in the most energy efficient way.

I think next season I might include some coastal swims.
Just as well I know some friendly kayakers.

In fact I might just swim past here, 'the whalebone' at Birasy, a few metres from where I broke my ankle. Should I have taken it as a sign?!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Its a head game.

Our pool session was cancelled tonight due to snow.
I was going to practice rolls, again, never quite convinced it will work when I need it to,
and it seems like a good use of warm water.
Back in March this was cold.
I am well known for my cold averse tendencies so never mind the sea state, it has to work in any weather.

Monday, 14 December 2009


I was reunited with my Isel at the pool this week.

Working up from hand rolls in pool boats to rolls in the Isel, in my own time, it was a very 'chilled' session in the best possible way.

Sitting in the Isel again after three months put a smile on my face.

So familiar, so an old friend not seen in a while, but it seems like no time at all.

Something else blue and comfortable put a smile on a Northern kayakers face too.

Monday, 7 December 2009


The last coached session before Christmas.
Me and my Cyprus hit the water.

So I padded out the ankle with neoprene and jammed it in a pool boat (uncomfortable at the best of times) and demonstrated. I snuck in a couple of hand rolls just to check the laws of physics had not been tampered with while I have been absent.

Everyone has made great progress.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The boat grotto

Still high and dry but beautifully lit during an annual Christmas light check.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

My right foot

Repairs continue. Normal service unknown?
I heard about a polymer glue that can be injected into the gap between broken bones allowing people to walk away after a fracture. Its a pity repairs to bone take longer than seamgrip repairs to drysuits.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Hurricane Riders

I thought I'd draw attention to these guys in case anyone had not come across them before.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Pyranhas in the pool

The second session in the pool involved a bit of boat balancing and gymnastics, amongst other things. I'm looking forward to joining in at some point, if only to demonstrate. I'll call that D-Day.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Scapa in November

Just in case we are ever in any doubt about where we are as the light fades at the end of a short day, we can reflect on how lucky we are to have the familiar white gable end of the Scapa distillery to help guide us back into the bay.

On a day like this, walking a few steps at the most familiar of launch sites is tough, and not just on the foot.

Shiny boat

Having been liberated from the cast, a fleeting sense of freedom was replaced by the reality of the next phase of recovery, which doesn't include paddling.
The result - a shiny boat.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The final countdown?

I am hoping that this will be the last 24 hours of wearing the cast. It has been about 6 weeks since I began this blog but it seems like 6 months. The cast is split, so in order to keep it closed I resorted to duct tape, the paddlers solution to running repairs for boat and body.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Putting it into practice.

Our new pool season has started with me coaching from the poolside, crib cards laminated and waterproof notebook in hand. IDEAS prepared, VAK challenges and games planned to make a Safe, Enjoyable Learning experience.

With 3 of us coaching the new members there was always someone able to demonstrate, though having done most of the course bank based I knew it could work well from a sitting position.
Great to see some new faces!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Digital Distraction

At last I have the DVD! So I am finishing the year with a dry version of the way we began. It works well in combination with the book and could provide a good way of evaluating video by comparing footage of your own skills with Gordon's demonstrations. Gordon's skill at conveying in words what he is doing without over complicating is great. Just the right blend of audio/visual information for each skill and the angle that everything is filmed at clarifies each point. Sometimes its hard to see the finer points of a demonstration on the water, from the water, especially when thinking about things like how best to blend strokes when rockhopping. This is a bit like being bank based but getting out of the marina. The other plus point about having all this on a DVD is that you don't need to think about your own boat positioning vis-a-vis other boats/rocks, as you try to watch, and there is no wind and wave noise cutting out every fifth word.
This is my first coaching video, I have a few 'inspirational' DVDs and occasionally look at demos of how to do things on the internet, but I think I will use this DVD to touch base and keep foundations sharp in a systematic way, and, by the time I do get back in a boat it may well be a useful place to start. It would be easy to set it up in the car and having a quick refresher just before getting in the boat if using it as an aid to coaching.
Thanks Gordon and Simon. Looking forward to the follow up already.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Kit audit

Not much else I can do at the moment.
Even this was pretty hard to achieve and I needed a lot of help just gathering everything up.
Amongst other things, I really would like to have a simple rip stop storm cag for rescuees. If anyone knows where I could source such an item I'd appreciate it if you could let me know.


A Lancashire lass took me for an airing on Wednesday and we got stuck on the wrong side of the second barrier on the way home. We sat in the car for a couple of hours watching the sea until the police deemed it safe enough for folk to cross. This situation might have previously caused frustration, but since it is as close to a dramatic sea as I'm going to get for a while, I enjoyed it.

The combination of tide and wind was throwing lumps over the wave wall. It was interesting to sit and watch from the south side where you can see the waves roll in. As time went by I began to predict which ones would make the most impact. I got quite good at it over the two hour period.

I was reminded of the beginning of the year, Gordon's training just east of here, and attempting to understand chaotic seas. I am still waiting for the DVD and wonder if it is lost in the postal chaos.

For folk who don't know Orkney it might be difficult to interpret the scale of the waves in the picture above. Each of the blocks is 10 tonnes.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hej! Hilleberg!

Managed to get outside today for the first time in 4 weeks. Made it to the shed where the new 2 person tent is pitched. So luxurious compared to the mountain marathon tent I squeezed into this year. The porch for unloading into is massive and makes the idea of waiting for weather windows much more agreeable.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Lost but not forgotten

Some of the more sentimental of you out there have been reminded of our paddling brethren in this blog, and have requested a special tribute to paddling partners.

The more whimsical of us attach bits and pieces to our boats.

Some paddlers of a whimsical nature find that if they can't photograph themselves in a place which has been reached by paddlepower, they need the evidence of having been there by photographing a companion. Rarely do these 'attachments' have the personality or downright bravery to stick with it in all weathers and through 'scenarios'.
Oscar did.
So in his honour here is a retrospective of some of his favourite places.

September Syllabus

As the nights begin to draw, in a quick dash out after work becomes more and more unfeasible. With coaching on our minds and an a growing sense of urgency about what we should be doing, I had to choose carefully what to spend time on. So, for the last month or so before the break there was a mixture of open boat practice at Walliwall, coaching my family, and working through 'scenarios'.

One particularly productive evening was spent practising what we should be doing. Four of us at Scapa spent an couple of hours continuously feeling sea sick, collapsing unconscious, dislocating shoulders, holing our boats (under the cockpit of course) and needing a repair, and practising different kinds of tows; supported tows and push tows. We were convincing!

The Foundation safety test approached and we became less like open boat averse sea kayakers and more like paddlers practiced in the skill of righting a capsized canoe, a feat which at one time appeared to involve more muscle than I could muster, but which in the event we accomplished without a fuss but with acrobatic flair.

Cooperation and communication, the key to crewing an open boat successfully, takes a bit of practice when you are used to paddling your own canoe.

And that brings me up to my present predicament, firmly bank based, leg still elevated,
for the time being... but I am planning...

Paddle Orkney '09

This was our first foray into the world of organising paddling events.

Fantastic food provided by Nancy, indoor/outdoor camping at the Riding Centre (with Orkney ice cream included) and a little bit of help and encouragement from our Shetland friends, all served to enhance the experience.

Nige Robinson and Donald Thompson delivered coached sessions and slide shows, and helped review planned trips in the light of the weather conditions. Despite deteriorating weather everyone enjoyed an interesting trip or two.

Have a look at this video filmed by one of the Northern Irish contingent.

Sidekick, Shetlander and Mastermind.

Been there, done that, designed the t-shirt....

...and the mug.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Uyeasound Saga

In August we set off for Unst to join our Shetland friends on their annual paddlefest for a couple of days, based in Uyea at the Gardiesfauld Hostel. After a comfortable journey north overnight we stocked up on provisions in Lerwick. As we drove north kayaks on cars became more and more common on the roads, until the final ferry queue consisted almost entirely of paddlers and cars stuffed with gear and paddle kit.

After setting up tents we went for a leisurely paddle around Uyeasound and the uninhabited island of Uyea. We undertook the customary sheep rescue, a common occurrence in the Northern Isles.

The following day I went with a group from Northwick to Balta Sound via Balta Isle.

The beach at Northwick.
There was a spectacular coastline and lots of rocky outcrops to dodge and choose routes between. Occasionally a rocky face seemed to materialise.

We stopped on a bouldery beach which turned out to be a Viking soapstone quarry, complete with real live Viking.

Into the eye sockets of a drowned troll...

We crossed to the island of Balta and stopped on its beautiful beach amid the remnants of theherring stations. The crumbling piers gave a clue to the scale of activity and boats that used to frequent the now idyllic island.

This little blue boat felt quite at home.

Looking down on the beach and north, back at where we had come from.

The back of Balta looks interesting.
I'll need to come back and do that another year.
Every birthday celebration should include a cowboy,
somewhere to shelter,
and facilities.

Each night we were treated to a fantastic spread of food in the community hall. We enjoyed slide shows and the Regatta dance on the Saturday night.
I look forward to many happy returns.

Living in the North Isles ourselves we understand the importance of using time in ferry queues usefully and the importance of keeping oneself amused.
In Shetland the means to do this is provided in the form of boat shaped musical instruments.

View Shetland paddles in a larger map

West Side Story.

In Orkney there is sometimes the chance to paddle part or all of 'the best paddle ever', along the west coast between Skaill and Stromness. This summer the weather held day after day. I was unable to paddle the whole route but managed to catch up with friends along the way by trolleying my boat down to a geo.

Yesnaby is a popular area to walk and admire the impressive cliffs, stacks and 'castles' and glimpse caves, seals and sea birds. From the water the view is even more magnificent.

As we approached we could see a fixed rope, perhaps for climbers to reach the foot of the stack which stands on a tripod of rock.

The scale of the coastal features on the west side is awesome.

Too soon, I had to return to dry land. On the way back to the car we spotted the other feature which folk come here to look for, but this one is tiny. This primula Scotica is framed by a ten year old hand.