World

  • Behm Canal - Alaska

    - trip report by Tim Dawson. (illustrated)

    Bears, Mist and Xtratufs ~ the Behm Canal explained

    Tim Dawson - 2004

    “That’s two hundred and ninety two dollars and sixty four cents. I guess you guys aren’t off the cruise ship.”


    Shopping is, even at the best of times, a stressful business in my opinion. Not least when preparing for 15 days away from any kind of supply. We’d bumped into Kim Kirby, the forthright Aussie from whom we’d hired our double kayak, in the supermarket. Looking in our trolley of food, she’d said: “Jeez, is that all you guys are taking?!”


    Round the aisles again and then the big bill, a taxi to take it all away and so the floor of our hotel room becomes invisible. Where will it all go? How are we going to keep it from the bears? Are we really up to this?

    Ketchikan, the southernmost major settlement in the tangle of fiords, mountains, rain forest and islands that is south east Alaska, part of the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest which covers most of the so-called “panhandle” of the south east. To visualise Alaska, hold your right fist up in front of you. The back of your hand is the interior of the state, your left pointing index finger makes the Aleutian island chain stretching to Russia, and your downward thumb forms the south east. The whole state, six times the size of Britain. Population 635,000 people, 40,000 brown bears.

    We relieve our stress in the bars of this waterfront town, towered over by the cruise ships that release overfed, under-exercised people to waddle a few yards to tacky jewellery shops selling tanzanite ~ what is that? But this is to devalue a place of straightforward, helpful and naturally courteous people who are rooted in fishing. A strong taste of this in the Potlatch Bar by Thomas Basin - noisy, smoky, pool table and full of fisherfolk, recognised by the ubiquitous Xtratufs, neoprene-lined wellies which no self-respecting Alaskan would be without in Ketchikan’s massive annual rainfall. One of many wonderful barmaids. That recognition that we’re here to experience the real south east (or just eccentric) recurs: “You guys are not off the cruise ship, are you?”

    The following day, the first of June, we’d planned to be off with the early morning flood tide to send us north west up Tongass Narrows. It’s doesn’t work out. 1 pm sees me catching a taxi to dump our land luggage after a last minute hitch, then I return to John trying to load the kayak from a pontoon in Thomas basin - he’s never packed a sea boat before. Somehow we squeeze everything in and the wind, if not the tide, is with us as the journey begins. The Behm Canal ~ a clockwise 150 mile circuit of Revillagigedo Island on which Ketchikan sits, taking in the 2 million acre Misty Fiords National Monument, home to old growth forest, whales, waterfowl, otters, beaver … and bears.

     

    Humpback whale in Traitors Cove

     

    Passing the mouth of Traitors Cove on day 3, a humpback surfaces 500 yards from our kayak. John and I have learned to tap on the hull so that the huge crittur knows where we are. We’re fairly drumming the Edinburgh tattoo! The whale comes closer, waves its tail flukes out of the water 100 yards away as if to say: “Hey guys, seen any krill?” then passes south, blowing audibly more than a mile away.
    We’re entertained again that evening as we eat dinner overlooking what comes to be known as Bay of the Yellow Plate (because we lost it there). A colossal warty head points skywards and then sinks amidst a chorus of blows.

    Day 4 and we’re on our way early, keen to reach the Lake Shelokum trailhead and wash in the hot springs. Oh, the luxury! To prunify feet and fingers in a hot tub big enough for three people, surrounded by steaming forest and muskeg, algae the colour of pink coral in a stream that is just off the boil. Then to wind back over the tottering boardwalks, brushing fragrantly through skunk cabbage and past the spiny devil’s club underlying huge sticks of spruce, hemlock and cedar, ever giving the warning as we approach a bend in the path: “Hey bear, ho bear!” You don’t want to take a bear by surprise.

    Tim enjoying the Shelokum hot springs.


    The wildlife that night behaves as if we’re not there. A hummingbird buzzes under my bent legs as I sit minding the stove. Two river otters crouch and stare at John a few yards away on the shore. A couple of mink chase each other past me as I cook, too busy with their own affairs to notice.

    Leaving Bailey Bay and the Shelokum trail head, we point our vessel left and into Bell Arm, the wind and tide both helping us along this ever narrowing passage. The rhythm is with us now. I’m becoming used to the back view of John, who is quite short, and appears disjointedly as a wide brimmed hat on top of a buoyancy aid, muttering about treacly water whenever I take a break from paddling behind him. It’s a sharp right into Anchor Pass, and a foul current forces a brew stop in the rain. Not long though before we’re away again, and in the distance a bear swims across our path with disarming speed.


    “Hey bear, ho bear!”


    We find the Forest Service cabin unoccupied at 6 pm. More luxury; the woodburner is roaring within minutes and our clothes, washed in the hot springs, are soon dripping on the floor.

    The morning of 7 June, after sleeping under a tarp in a spooky wood, tucked well in away from any bear path, we paddle south down the inner arm of the Behm, followed by a large school of Dall’s porpoises. We head left and east into the mouth of the Chickamin River,

     

    Chicamin Delta


    working up through a delta of islands and skeletons of trees to a hunter’s cabin. A scrawled message on the table reads:

    “Word on the street. Beware crazy man.”

    Maybe just a tactic to keep us away. It works on me and one night is enough.

     

     

    Channel Islands


    At a river mouth south side of Walker Cove, John and I have a long conference before establishing our camp. We’re now well into Misty Fiords and this is serious bear country - fresh scat and prints in the sand. We opt for the textbook triangle – tent 100 yards from our cooking place, bags hung in trees close by. No sound in the night, but paw prints in the intertidal zone tell us that big bruin has paid us a visit. John fishes the morning away and sees him eating sedge away upstream.


    A rest day and fresh pink salmon cooked on an open fire, where the tide will wash the smell away. “Hey bear, ho bear!”

     

    Bear Prints and Tim's boots.


    The low, sheltered bowl of Manzanita Bay contrasts with the verticality of Walker Cove. Loons, diving birds with arty plumage, wail out on the open water. We make ourselves at home in the three-sided Forest Service shelter, smoke from the fireplace finding its way out (mostly) through the gap in the offset roof ridge. Next morning we paddle our kayak a few hundred yards to the start of the Manzanita Lake trail, three wonderful miles of beaver ponds, boggy muskeg and tree life. It takes a long time to travel such a distance in this terrain.

    Punchbowl Cove in Rudyerd Bay gives us the first face-to-face human contact for 8 days. I meet Doug returning from the Punchbowl Lake trail. He’s from Ketchikan and has brought two friends out in his small cabin cruiser for the weekend. Later we paddle out to the boat and share some beer and rum with Doug, Mike and Joe. Mike has a gorgeous strip-built kayak of maple and mahogany. We take leave when it has nearly gone dark, and make a surprisingly steady and straight passage back to our camp. We’re immersed in this immense land now, at home in the soft Pacific north west rain and decorative mists, and ever glad of dry feet in our Xtratufs and the wide hats that keep the water off our balding heads.

     

     

    Low tide at Punchbowl Cove

     

     

    A damp night forces us up earlier than we would like on a “rest day”. We burn our hands once more hauling food bags into the trees, then head steeply up the trail to Punchbowl Lake, clapping loudly over the thundering waterfall:


    “Hey bear, ho bear!”

    Arrival at the lake brings a shelter, a skiff and, best of all, a canoe, new wooden paddles recently provided care of the Forest Service. J stroking through glassy water makes a change from the weighed down kayak. We visit the lake within a lake – a beaver pond on the big island – then drift silently as John fishes the depths, unsuccessfully this time. Through steep rock slabs dropping into the water on our right, runs a vegetated, diagonal runnel. Within it, a black bear is feeding, oblivious of our presence. We watch him for an hour as he tries to walk along the bottom of the slab.

     

    John's bear!

     


    He obviously doesn’t fancy a dip, though as we’ve seen a few days previously, bears are brilliant swimmers. In the end he gives up and returns to his green prison, no doubt longing for the salmon to run and the berries to ripen.


    “Hey bear, ho bear!”

    Next day is our last of paddling. We finish in the bizarre setting of a wooden float in the southern arm of Rudyerd Bay, stringing our tarp over two wheeled gangways and cooking a Dolly Varden charr that John caught this afternoon in Nooya Lake. The following morning, the huge catamaran Majestic Fiord arrives to carry us, all too fast, to Ketchikan and the long journey home.

     

    Tim Dawson, 2004

  • Brittany September 2003

    - trip report by Jim Krawiecki. (illustrated)

    Brittany September 2003

    by Jim Krawiecki

    This northwest corner of France is a bit of a hidden gem for sea paddlers. I have already explored some fantastic areas. This does not mean that I have seen it all; indeed I may well have missed the best bits! The coastlines are varied and beautiful like the West Coast of Scotland, Anglesey and Pembrokeshire with the added advantage of warm weather, excellent food and fine wines. I have been to the Quiberon and Morbihan area before but this time I really wanted to have a closer look at the islands of Houat, Hoedic and Belle Isle.

    Presquille de Quiberon

    The idea was to head south to Port Haliguen on the Quiberon peninsula where there is a good campsite and a marina where good five-day forecasts are available. The end of the Quiberon Peninsula has at least 7-8 miles of intriguing rocky coastline with a dash of sun-soaked sandy beaches. The local wildlife is as varied as the coastline, all of the seabirds you'd expect with a few added extras such as Egrets and a variety of Terns that I couldn't identify. The edible wildlife is splendid! But if you'd rather just look you can feast your eyes on Mussels, Winkles, Oysters (l'amor, toujours l'amor!) and the fishing is good too.

    Armed with a sea kayak each and all of the associated clutter Chris (my brother) and me stole into "Camping du Conguel" undercover of darkness and began to make plans to investigate the local coastline and nearby islands. Soon after daybreak a breakfast of fresh coffee and croissants was heartily munched (civilisation achieved!) and before we were paddling to Port Maria and Port Haliguen for any local info we could think would be useful. The marina at Port Haliguen has an office with friendly staff who will photocopy a detailed, five day, inshore waters forecast for the princely sum of 20 cents. There is also an atmospheric hostelry called "Café du Midi" where we bought startlingly strong espresso and obtained local tide tables! Port Maria is the downtown happening district with a fishing port, ferry terminal, and local shops all within 45 minutes (quality) paddling time from our campsite.

    Ile de Houat (translates from breton as "duck")

    Houat lies about 5 miles south west of Pionte de Couguel and is less than 3 miles long. In order to get some tidal assistance we left base camp shortly after 8am leaving Pointe de Conguel and Phare de la Teignouse well off to the right as the ebb stream would be going South during the coming hour. Despite paddling into an easterly force 3-4 it took us just under 2 hours to reach Porh Halai where we took a short break before continuing on to the harbour at Port St Gildas. We were hoping to find a place, which displays a current forecast at the harbour but having found nothing we continued up the short hill into the village. There is a post office, a general store, a couple of hotels and a town hall but we didn't find a forecast. What we did find was a picturesque, busy but somehow peaceful village, possibly trapped in a time warp. Small stone built houses mostly painted white with small gardens infested with terrific flowering bushes were the norm. The only motor vehicle we saw looked as if it dated from the 50s and I doubt it had an MOT!
    Although downtown Houat was scenic, there didn't seem to be much to keep us there so we decided to paddle on. The Eastern extremity of Houat (En Tal) is made entirely of sand! Quite rare! I can't think of many, if any headlands, which aren't made of harder stuff. Just round the corner lies Treac'h er Goured a lovely long beach upon which we decided to have lunch and plan our crossing to Belle Ile.

    Belle Ile en Mer (The beautiful island in the sea)

    Our crossing of 6 miles or so took 2 hours in some of the calmest sea paddling conditions I have ever seen, fish were jumping frequently almost as though it was too hot even in the water. I was glad to reach the sandy bay of Port an Dro and jump right out of my boat and into the water for a well-earned soothing dip! This charming little bay has a convenient municipal campsite with showers, toilets and a helpful monsieur du camping who used his internet access to find a weather forecast for us. A cup or two French wine soon had heads down. Wilderness adventure has never been so civilised!

    Belle Ile is 12 miles long and less than 5 miles at its widest and is littered with hamlets and small villages. The south and west coasts are characterised by high rocky cliffs with deep gullies, caves, rock arches and stacks. The Northeast-facing coast has more in the way of sandy beaches and civilisation in the way of Le Palais, which is the main town and harbour and to the north, the smaller port of Sauzon.
    The next morning brought us a good force 4 blowing from the East so we packed our boats and headed for the sheltered coast and the cultural delights of Le Palais. Initially the journey is an interesting paddle with 100 ft rocky cliffs and inlets but the sandy beaches that adorn the majority of this stretch held little interest for us on the day so we paddled directly to Le Palais, beneath the grand Citadel and into the inner harbour.

     

    Le Palais - has everything a tourist would hope to find in a busy port. Car, moped and bike hire; plenty of shops cafes and restaurants, and a market. There is also the aforementioned Citadel, parts of which date from Roman times. From a seafarers point of view it is worth mentioning that the Capitanerie (harbourmaster's office) next to the ferry ticket office displays a 3-5 day forecast in the window.

    On the way to Sauzon we explored caves and gullies and discreetly investigated possibilities of bivvying/camping in some of the inlets and bays. The access to campsite that we were looking for was from a small marina half a mile up the inlet from the harbour entrance and there was not enough water. We investigated by foot! We discovered that Camping Pen Prad was only 200 yards from the slipway at the marina but it would be at least a couple of hours until we would be able to paddle there. This left us with an ideal opportunity to visit the most northerly point of the island, Pointe des Poulains. It didn't take long, merely half an hours paddling brought us to a lovely shingle beach, the headland and its stunning cliffs just around the corner. Being here really gives a feeling of being exposed to the might of the Atlantic, although conditions could not have been more benign, the little swell that there was felt quite awesome. This headland looks well battered. Pointe des Poulains would make a spectacular spot for wild camping but we had already set our sights for the comforts of the municipal campsite at Sauzon.

    Sauzon - is the second largest town on Belle Isle and has a wealth of bars and restaurants along the quayside. The character and beauty of this place is stunning. We took an evening stroll to Pointe de Cardinal and witnessed yet another spectacular Breton sunset. We wandered back to the marina by our campsite to drink wine and watch the tide go out! The evening should have been perfect. Little were we to know of the disturbed night that lay ahead of us.
    I woke to the sound of some quality partying a short way down the site. A sufficiency of alcohol within my bloodstream enabled me to turn over and go back to sleep, but not for long! A short while later I woke up once again, the party grown louder and had taken on more of an aggressive tone, some furniture outside unoccupied caravans was being trashed and I could hear arguments. I was to keep an eye on what was going on without drawing attention to myself, perhaps it wasn't all that bad but without really understanding what was being said, being in a strange place and not being able to see much made me feel quite terrified. It wasn't long before the gang's attention was drawn to our boats! I listened to two, perhaps three guys discussing what fun they could have with these boats. I stayed huddled in my tent, silent and wondering what, if anything could be done. I wasn't confident that anything I could do would have a positive outcome, utter despair! Fortunately, just in the nick of time a fight broke out between some of the revellers and some poor man who had the misfortune to be camping right next to their sound system. I think we had it bad. The fight didn't seem to come to any sort of conclusion but seemed to do the trick as with regards us, and our boats. Things gradually began to calm down but it was almost daybreak before I felt truly relaxed. Given that we had not slept well we decided to take it easy. We paddled back to Le Palais and returned from there to Quiberon on the car ferry.

    The slow trek north! - We chilled out by the seashore for much of the next day and spent a couple of hours picking mussels from rocks which made for a splendid feast later that evening. We made plans to visit the dramatic coastline around Point du Raz. Further north the weather was less inspiring and we did very little paddling, I have paddled around some of these dramatic headlands before though and I mean to return soon. I see the Breton coastline as an area well worth exploring and it seems that very few British paddlers make it there which seems odd to me because the opportunities for adventure are vast and it costs relatively little to get there.

    I regularly contribute to the Northwest Sea Kayakers website www.nwsk.org.uk where we exchange ideas for forthcoming trips and welcome new paddlers to join us.

    Jim Krawiecki.

  • Casí Una Vuelta a Menorca

    - by Phil Quill. Looks like some stunning paddling. Illustrated.

    Casí Una Vuelta a Menorca

     

    Phil Quill - 2006

    First published in Paddles Magazine

    A circuit of Menorca by sea kayak has long been on my “to do” list. Ever since it was suggested to me some years ago, by a Spanish friend after a day’s paddling in the Pyrenees. At that time a change of jobs got in the way, so an opportunity to do it this year was for me, not to be missed.

    Menorca is the eastern most island in the Balearic Archipelago in the western Mediterranean some 225km from Barcelona. In size Menorca is over 50% larger than the Isle of Wight while its perimeter is well over twice as long. If this gives an indication of a wiggly coastline then that is by no means too far from the truth. In 1993 UNESCO declared the Island a Biosphere Reserve.

    I’d got the chance to join a group of paddlers on a trip being organised by Toni-Albert owner, manager and chief paddler of Kayaking Costa Brava, probably the largest sea kayaking company on the Costa Brava with a string of canoeing bases along the more interesting sections of that coastline. Toni had arranged for boats and paddles etc. to be transported to Menorca which undoubtedly made the logistics easier. All I had to do was turn up.

    So for me, the adventure starts with a late night flight to Barcelona. As I’m meeting most of the others in the group before 6.00am the next morning I’d decided to look on the web and found a “not quite so outrageously expensive” room at the airport hotel. And here comes Top Tip Number1 – even though the hotel describes itself as only 500 metres from the airport and even though it’s a nice night and even though you’ve just missed the shuttle bus, whatever you do – don’t try to walk there. A bit like Los Angeles the outskirts of the airport are a pedestrian free zone.

    The next morning it’s up bright and early despite the fact that Barcelona is cloudy and rainy. I’m at the airport like any good Englishman bang on time at 5.55am, an hour before our scheduled flight time to Menorca. A couple of guys are already there and introductions are made and continued as others join us. According to the many emails that had flown between Toni and I, “someone” from Kayaking Costa Brava would meet us at the airport with the plane tickets. By 6.30am “someone” hadn’t turned up even though there were now 8 or so of us waiting. The Spanish gets quicker and more heated, mobiles come out and eventually we discover that “someone” is still in bed! Rapidly new tickets are purchased, bags checked in and with only minutes to go before departure we scramble aboard the plane. It’s not me that’s making the comments on Spanish organisation.

    The rest of the journey goes comparatively smoothly. Taxis are organised at Mahon airport and we’re off to Ciutadella to meet up with Toni and all the kit. During the morning other members of our group who’ve made their own way to Menorca show up, including a sheepish “someone”, now in the form of Jordi who gets some well deserved stick. Boats, paddles, buoyancy aids are handed out and various attempts are made to get our 10 days worth of clothing and camping gear to fit in the Rainbow Laser sea kayaks that most of us are using. Fortunately we haven’t got to carry food as we’re also being accompanied by a 5m RIB. Toni has some fairly firmly fixed thoughts on the necessity of us being accompanied by a safety boat and given the amount of gear its carrying, I’m not about to argue with him.

    Ciutadella is over on the west coast of Menorca and the plan is to paddle round the island in a clockwise direction. The north coast of Menorca is badly affected by a strong northerly wind, the Tramontana. This plan will enable us to get past most exposed coast more quickly. I’ve encountered the Tramontana on the Costa Brava and know that it’s a force to be reckoned with. We’re planning to complete the trip over 9 days which at a daily average of only around 17km should be plenty of time and allow for any unforeseen delays.

    So, at 1.30pm with all the boats packed our group of 15 including Toni and Jordi and our safety boat are ready to set off.

    Day 1: Ciutadella to Cala d’Algaiaren –¡Vamanos!

    It’s a bit overcast but even so it’s superbly warm. To paddle, I need no more clothing than shorts and t-shirt. We put in at the far end of the port so we’ve got a kilometre or so to do past an array of fishing and pleasure boats before moving out into the Mediterranean Sea with a clear view of the hills on Mallorca some 30 odd miles away.

    Wow. Friends had spoken about the colour of the water, but this really is stunning. Cliché or not aquamarine is the only word that adequately describes this incredibly clear bluey-green water.

    Almost immediately the coast is marked by low cliffs with caves and at one stage a small waterfall. Many of the caves are surprisingly deep. Notably, one has a tight passage around 150 metres long leading into a natural amphitheatre. It seems we’ve only really got into our stride when we pass the most western part of the island at Cap de Bajolí and we swing to the north-east. If our daily average of only 17km seems low (and it did to me before we started) then it is in part explained by the fact that we’re leaving no cove unexplored, no cave un-entered. We’re literally following every nook and cranny the coastline has to offer. I’ve no complaints – I’m sometimes easily bored sea kayaking but here there’s a huge amount to keep me interested.

    We pass the lighthouse at Punta Nati and have a quick snack of nuts in Cala des Morts. We’re now heading almost due east and have undoubtedly started what would, in many conditions be an exposed stretch of coastline but fortunately the Tramontana shows no signs of blowing. Instead we’ve very light winds and a really calm sea allowing us to pass close to much larger cliffs and an area that looks like some kind of Giant’s quarry. Huge blocks of grey stone the size of a big house are stacked in a vaguely organized way. Organized or not it’s a good job that the wind is as light as it is: there are no easy landings here, rather it’s actually a pretty committing piece of coast. The RIB starts to make increasing sense.

    We pass a huge number of cormorants, thinner looking than their UK counterparts, and higher up at the top of the cliffs some huge gulls with rust coloured heads. We then pass under a superb arch before heading into another fabulous deserted bay, home for the night. I realize that after 5 ½ hours of paddling we’ve not seen another living soul since we left Ciutadella. As we unload the food from the RIB into a boathouse canopy it starts to rain! This isn’t the mental picture I’d had back in the UK. Dark falls and we pitch the tents and by this stage we’re all more than ready to eat. Ricard has been working hard over the stove and it smells sensational. Under the welcome shelter of the boathouse canopy, we tuck into Botifarra (Catalan sausage) and pasta. The name of the dish does nothing to convey how delicious and welcome it is. Morale rises with every mouthful.

    Day 2: Cala d’Algaiaren to Cala Pregonda – Pan amb Tomate

    It’s all change this morning. As we leave Cala d’Alagaiaren the sun’s out and the geology’s changing too. Yesterday’s classic grey limestone is giving way to a deep, rusty-red rock giving a stunning array of colours and shapes. Razor sharp limestone mixes with softer, more rounded sandstone.

    We set off surprisingly early this morning. Surprising in the sense that previous experience paddling in Spain had indicated that nothing much happens before 11.00am. So our 10.30am on the water, going is pretty impressive. We’d breakfasted on a classic Catalan dish. Pan amb tomate or bread with tomato, but this undersells it enormously. Fresh tomato is squeezed onto the bread, then a liberal drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt underpins dry cured ham or chorizo. Sensational. Top Tip Number 2 – a small thing but etiquette (and extra juice) dictates that you cut the tomato horizontally i.e. not through the stalk.

    So more than a bit full, I’m now paddling past high sandstone cliffs. There are fewer caves this morning but lots of opportunity for rock hopping. More cormorants and a fantastic display by a family of Egyptian Vultures are the highlight of the morning.

    At Cala del Pillar we stop to investigate an old house cut into the rocks and its adjacent spring. We bump into an old boy speaking in Menorquin, a kind of heavily-accented Catalan. Even some of those in the group from Catalunya struggle to fully understand him. Here a word or two about the make up of our group would be worthwhile. There’s me from the UK, César from Santander and Paco from Segovia, otherwise the rest of the group are all from Catalunya. Top Tip Number 3 – Be conscious that the Catalan people are rightfully proud of their culture and of their language which is quite different from Castillian Spanish. My Catalan is next to non-existent so I’m eternally grateful that, out of deference to me, most conversation is in Castellano.

    Back into the kayaks and back to grey limestone for another couple of hours paddling before stopping for lunch on the hull of an up-turned fishing boat in a beautiful bay. Two further hours brings us to Cala Pregonda and we land on a small island with orange, spiky rock looking like something out of the set of a Star Wars film. Thank goodness I’ve squeezed a mask and snorkel into my kit. I’d forgotten how good snorkeling can be in water as clear as this with shoals of fish swimming in front of your face.

    For the night we return the mainland (if an island can ever be that) to bivvy down on the balcony of a deserted beach house with the beam from the lighthouse at Cap de Cavalleria sweeping across our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we’ll be paddling past this.

    Day 3: Cala Pregonda to Fornells – Macomba Macomba

    Over the previous two days what wind we’ve had has been from the South and it’s therefore been pretty sheltered for us paddling along in the lee of the cliffs. This morning the wind’s changed direction. Although it is nothing like the Tramontana’s usual strength, mood in the group is a bit subdued as we know that today we’ve some exposed stretches to paddle round.

    We’ve almost 6km of paddling to go before we get to Cap de Cavalleria and even at that distance white horses are clearly visible on our route inside Illa de Porros. If they look big at that distance how big will they seem when we’re on top of them? It’s calm enough though as we approach, with time to admire the hundreds of “medusa” or jelly fish drifting along – another good reason to wear a mask when swimming.

    As we approach the headland I’m less confident that we’re going to make it. Those waves really are pretty big! Toni, though, is storming along at the front and, just as I’m thinking that maybe he knows something I don’t, he shows that he does. A narrow “chicken shoot” opens up to our right allowing us to cut out the larger waves at the start of the headland. We’re now only having to cope with somewhat confused, reflected waves before shooting through another narrow gap into calmer waters the other side of the lighthouse.

    Low cliffs lead us round to a semi-thatched fisherman’s shelter and a long, leisurely lunch with an impressive view across to our next target, Cap de Fornells. Since leaving Ciutadella we’ve seen very few other people and only isolated houses so it comes as a bit of a shock as we approach Platges de Fornells (literally Fornells’ Beaches) a new development of white apartments. But just as we’re starting to believe that the coast here looks pretty benign we immediately encounter two wrecks. The first, which has obviously been there for some years is not much more than a rusting hulk. Only a two foot diameter piston stuck in the air like some kind of bizarre navigation mark gives a clue to the original size of the vessel. The second wreck, only a kilometre further on is more shocking, perhaps because it’s obviously a much more recent occurrence. As we approach, I’m thinking that it’s a strangely shaped jetty. As we get closer the image crystallizes into a 40 to 50 foot fishing boat. Those parts out of the water seem in remarkably good condition but she’s well aground and being gradually destroyed by the pounding waves. It may be the Med, there may be negligible tides, the sun may be shining but…..this coastline still deserves respect.

    Rounding Punta Mala I can see a squat, round tower ahead. These are very much a feature of the Menorcan coastline. This one, the Torre de Fornells guides us through a narrow entrance into a huge natural harbour cum bay of the same name. Windsurfers flash across the far, inland end of the bay while the smart, fishing village of Fornells becomes more apparent as we work our way across to the other side of the bay to where we plan to stop for the night.

    After sorting out the camp we use the RIB to ferry us across to Fornells for a well deserved beer. Surprisingly, Paco turns out to be a bit of an anglophile and is extolling the virtues of English beer. Personally, I’m more than content with an ice cold San Miguel. Later that night, back at the camp the conversation turns from dirty jokes (a real test of my Spanish) to politics (with just a hint of Catalan/Spanish tension) to the safer territory of tomorrow’s paddle. We’ve just one more day’s paddling to do before swinging significantly to the south, literally leaving the Tramontana behind us.

    Day Four: Fornells to Cala de Montgofre – Coach nivel cinco

    There was heavy dew the previous night so it’s a latish start to give the tents a chance to dry. We set off, paddling almost due north out of the sheltered bay that provided such a calm camp last night. We’re heading for the Mola de Fornells, a pretty substantial-looking headland on the map, and so it seems from a kayak, increasingly so, as we get closer.

    Fortunately, yesterday’s northerly winds have swung round and are now coming from the south-west, so below the high cliffs on the north side of the island it’s actually pretty calm allowing us to explore some of the numerous caves. One cave in particular stands out, with a spectacular, illuminated sump. The light shining up through the water seems almost fluorescent.

    I think what has most surprised me so far on this trip is the unexpectedly long sections of coastline without any easy landing. Much of it is actually quite committing and that is certainly the case here, the cliffs offer no refuge. As we round the headland I can see the town of Arenal d’en Castell across the next bay but we’re swinging south now and out of the protection of the higher cliffs leaving us much more exposed to what has now become a strong side wind.

    I’ve only previously seen Little Egrets in ones and twos so the flying display we get from a group of twelve is particularly impressive. Their pure white plumage contrasts with the deep blue sky and the dark rock of the lower cliffs that now line our route.

    A sheltered sandy beach gives us a chance for a quick break before some rock hopping leads us past a huge complex of tourist apartments and onwards past a couple of low green islands into the natural harbour of Port d’Addaia. We make a quick tour of the narrow bay before cutting inside those islands on the way to yet more dramatic cliffs. Our third wreck of the trip shows the way. From a distance it looks like a triangular sailing mark. A 35ft fishing boat is sitting on its stern with only 3 foot of the bow clear of the water. The cliffs here are clearly home to numerous birds of prey, with Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures displaying above us. We carry on to Cala de Mongofre, where we’re stopping for the night.

    A strange, almost boat-shaped building on the beach means that we’ve the luxury of a table to eat at. Over dinner the conversation gets round to BCU coaching courses. Toni is not the first foreign paddler I’ve met to hold these in high esteem. While few British paddlers would dispute that the BCU coaching needs some work, it does seem to be a million miles ahead of the local, Spanish system.

    Day Five: Cala de Montgofre to Cala de Sant Esteve – ¿Alguién quiere la esponja?

    Today is going to be longest paddle of the trip. So, it’s a reasonably early start under grey skies down to our first point at Cap de Favàritz. The cliffs here are shale-like and, like the sky, an unremitting grey – apart from the temperature we could be in Wales! By the time we get to the lighthouse there’s a good swell running off the Cap which makes for an exciting moment or two and allows us to surf back into the bay the other side. We’re now heading almost due south making us much less vulnerable to the Tramontana – the strong north wind that affects Menorca and other parts of the western Mediterranean.

    The nicely shaped swell keeps up all morning keeping us entertained on the way to Illa d’en Colom. We stop for a break on the island, home to a unique species of lizard, bright green with a dark tail, dozens scatter across the ground as we land our kayaks. There are more Black Kites circling above us, Menorca really is a great spot for bird watching. Indeed, we’re now just outside the S’Albufera bird reserve the spot for waders of every description.

    The sun’s back out again now so it’s back to Mediterranean colours. The waves pick up again south of the island and there’s an impressive break on an obvious off-shore reef. As we’ve still a fair distance to go we stick inside of this and carry on past the largish town of sa Mesquida before stopping for lunch at the far end of es Murtar. As the crow flies we’re now close to Maó (or Mahon) the capital of Menorca. As the canoeist paddles though, we need to get round Punta de s’Esperó, the eastern most point of the island. We swing towards the south-west as we round the point with the lighthouse high up on the cliffs above us. The swell is pretty large and directly behind us once more so it’s a toss up between admiring the cliffs and fully enjoying the ride.

    Just before the harbour that marks the entrance to Maó we try to sneak through a narrow, zig-zag gap in the cliffs but we’re forced back by the waves coming through from the other side. The harbour mouth is guarded by some impressive fortifications. In fact the whole town of es Castell, which marks the entrance, is steeped in military history. We carry on though, before grabbing a quick break in the super-pretty (and tiny) port of Cala Sant Esteve. It’s late afternoon now, on the way in to the Cala the waves were pretty impressive and they’re showing no signs of abating as we paddle back out, for what’s scheduled to be only another 2 or 3 kilometres before stopping for the night.

    It’s back to yet more, impressively, high cliffs only now the waves are being reflected directly off them making for the roughest conditions we’ve had so far. After about 50 minutes paddling we swing straight towards the cliffs, heading for an incredibly tight cove, Caló des Rafalet, probably no more than 20 metres across. The intimidation factor is increased enormously by the waves which are now pounding into the cliffs on either side. What’s more, there’s an “S” bend to negotiate. It’s with some relief that an anxious and tired group all make it to the calmer water at the far end of the cove. Toni disappears into the undergrowth while we bob up and down in our boats waiting for his return. Bad news, that tired and anxious group is now more anxious and definitely more than somewhat disappointed as Toni decides that there’s insufficient space to camp for the night.

    So, with dusk fast approaching, it’s back out once more. Round the “S” bend, through the narrow entrance and past those crashing waves down to the much larger Cala Sant Esteve, albeit through another tight entrance with an impressive sunset. Landing on the beach at the end of this harbour is one of life’s surreal experiences. Twenty minutes ago we were struggling with the elements, completely on our own. Now, getting changed in the dark, we’re under the gaze of dozens of astonished German tourists sitting on the balconies of their adjacent apartment block, all to the strains of Mantovani coming from the bar below.

    Unquestionably the downside is that this was not the secluded camp we’d envisaged. There is some compensation though involving several cold beers, cooking under a bridge and an easy camp on a very sandy football pitch.

    Day Six: Cala de Sant Esteve to Biniparratx – Pomada fiesta

    It’s much calmer today and immediately outside the Cala there’s a stunning arch to get everyone in the mood. Shortly afterwards though, the cliffs virtually completely disappear. They’re replaced by a low, rocky shore of sharp rock which even with the small waves running today would still make for a very difficult and potentially painful (and expensive) landing.

    We head out to Illa de l’Aire (or Air Island) to visit its typical black and white lighthouse. This is another island with its own species of lizard. These are almost jet black and there must be tens of thousands of them on this small patch of land, no more than a kilometre long. Illa de l’Aire marks the south eastern most point of our tour and looking back towards the main island of Menorca its obvious how much more populated is this, south side of the island.

    While the coastline itself is less spectacular, the clarity of the water is still sensational and I find myself paddling along, staring at the sea bed and the ever changing array of colours and shapes. At Racó d’en Bruixa the cliffs start again and so do the caves, one in particular cave stands out with a round, open top. Presumably, in heavy seas this makes for a spectacular blow-hole.

    We stop for a long, leisurely lunch in the stunningly attractive port (from the water anyway) of Binibeca, a small development of modern houses in a traditional, fisherman’s style before continuing west towards today’s destination of Cala de Biniparratx. Just before we get that far there’s a fantastic cave with a small sump at the far end that’s just too tempting. Outside the cave once more, we tie the kayaks together, put snorkels and masks on, then swim back into the cave once more for a spot of “cave snorkeling”. It’s stunning. Deep, in every sense, vertically it’s around 20 metres to the bottom and horizontally about 50 metres or so to the sump. Fortunately there’s still enough light to duck under and into the smaller, far chamber. I am not the world’s greatest swimmer but the extra salinity of the Med means that even a renowned sinker like myself can feel confident in water this buoyant.

    After we’ve all clambered back into our kayaks it’s a short hop round the corner for an impromptu rolling clinic followed in the evening by a Pomada Fiesta (pomada being made from local gin, freshly squeezed lemon and a dash of lemonade). Later, a debate turns into a kind of “A” level politics question – Compare and contrast Catalan autonomy with Scottish and Welsh devolution. The Franco regime is particularly vivid in the Catalan memory - a period in which they were even forbidden to use their own language in public.

    Day Seven: Biniparratx to Cala Coves – La cara y la cruz

    The day starts with beautiful blue skies and it’s a fairly early start as we’ve a good distance to cover today. It’s been a sheltered night on the beach but presumably less so out to sea as outside of the cove it’s a mass of white horses. The map shows the coast as almost a dead straight line heading north-west.

    Immediately we’re beyond the shelter of the cove there are lots of reflected waves, albeit with less wind than those white horses would have led us to expect. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly tiring and we’re making fairly slow progress. After just over an hours paddling we make it to the first Cala large enough to offer any shelter, es Canutells albeit only for a five minute loo stop.

    Back out to sea, it really is now very choppy. I can’t help believing that it would be a bit easier paddling further out to sea where there are likely to be fewer reflected waves. Toni’s reluctant to paddle further offshore as he doesn’t want to cross swords with the Guardia Civil. He explains that in Spain it’s illegal to paddle in a kayak further offshore than 200 metres and what’s more, illegal to kayak on the sea in anything more than a Force 3! Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we’ve been hugging the coast in quite the way we have. Certainly there have been bays that, if I’d been on my own, I would have cut straight across.

    So it’s slow progress on to Cala Coves. This is another super-dramatic entrance, narrow and geometric. It leads into a double ended cove with cliffs on almost all sides. The cliffs have hundreds of caves dotted around them. These though are man-made. The earliest were cut out by hand in the Bronze Age as burial chambers, the Romans then used it as a place of pilgrimage, in more recent times it became home to a hippy commune. Now, in order to protect the caves most are boarded up to ensure their conservation.

    Carles and Lorena are suffering, either from last night’s Pomada or from the confused sea. To be fair it is difficult, tiring paddling. As we paddle back out from Cala Coves, the wind is distinctly picking up, the sky is clouding over and the weather decidedly looks on the turn. It’s unfortunate that it’s as rough as it is as the cliffs are lined with dozens if not hundreds of caves but in today’s conditions we’ve no chance of getting near them.

    It’s too rough to investigate Cala en Porter whose entrance is marked by a spectacular disco set high into the cliffs. As the wind picks up still further it’s becoming obvious that we’re now traveling very slowly. More in hope than anything else we send the support boat up ahead to check for landings but it’s a no-go and the decision is made to return to Cala Coves. There’s more than a little disappointment and indeed some dissent to this, with the stronger paddlers feeling that they could carry on especially as the weather forecast indicates more of the same for tomorrow. However the support boat has confirmed that there are only difficult landings for a considerable distance ahead.

    It seems strange to be storm bound yet still strolling about in shorts. Most of us take the opportunity to walk over the cliffs into En Porter for additional supplies of bread and wine. I’m shocked when we get there and not a little embarrassed. Particularly after spending the best part of a week with little contact with the outside world, the culture shock is immense as we arrive in what seems to be a distillation of the worst of the English seaside.

    Day Eight: Cala Coves to Cala en Turqueta – ¿Alguién quiere la bota?

    In the shelter of Cala Coves it’s difficult to tell with any degree of accuracy if conditions are any calmer today. In truth the sea state looks much the same as yesterday afternoon but while this is a great spot, feelings are unanimous that we want to get on with it and not risk failing to complete the trip. Essentially we’ve three stages to complete in two days so it’s an early start, up and onto the water. It’s still quite rough but fortunately the wind has eased slightly. There’s still a degree of tension in the group with the faster paddlers feeling that they’re being held back. However, we’re making better progress than yesterday and after an hour or so of paddling we reach the end of the cliffs. In this last section of cliffs we must have passed hundreds of caves. Unfortunately it’s too rough to explore them, the flip side is that we’re not distracted from the mission!

    At Son Bou the cliffs give way to beaches. In truth this is not the prettiest part of the Island, with a couple of high rise hotels satisfying the needs of a considerable number of tourists wanting the classic beach holiday. The beaches are studded with regimented lines of blue sunbeds, although they’re not in much use today as the weather is still fairly overcast and the red “no swimming” flags are flying.

    Without the cliffs there are no reflected waves so the sea’s a lot calmer and we’re making swifter progress. After 6km or so of beaches the cliffs return and almost immediately the first cave. This is possibly the best yet, certainly the deepest, with the passage into the final, third chamber no more than two boats wide. Paddling back out it’s increasingly obvious that the wind’s picking up and we’re now breaking the law into a strong headwind. Progress is slowing dramatically. This is especially frustrating as we can see Cap d’Artrutx, the final corner before we swing back to the north, in the distance ahead.

    We’re hugging the cliffs trying to keep out of the wind as much as possible but in reality, it’s a hard slog with brief respites in each cove. Suddenly, we’re onto yet more caves. The first stretches my descriptive powers. A tightish entrance into a cavern with a window to the right, then another low entrance into a further, smaller cavern and then a super-tight passage until it’s just too narrow to get any further. The climax though is yet to come. On a further fifty metres or so and then we turn back on ourselves into a narrow v-shaped cleft and the out at the far end of the cavern, into the light through a padder-shaped and sized hole. Stunning!

    It’s raining now but despite this, the water in Cala Mitjana is still an amazing aquamarine blue. Another cave! This one is more than 250metres deep and pretty intimidating. The waves have set up a deep booming noise inside and the atmosphere is warm and musty. We turn the final cavern into a debating chamber. The forecast is indicating that the wind is likely to increase tomorrow. Do we press on tonight, possibly finishing in the dark, or risk it and finish tomorrow as planned? I’m for pressing on but the majority are pretty knackered so the noes have it.

    Cala Macarella is just ‘round the corner and we pull in here around 4.30pm for a late lunch in the beachside restaurant. Morale picks up enormously after a few of bottles of wine! Under a watery sun we paddle (slowly) into Cala en Turqueta to camp for the night. This has an almost Caribbean feel to it. My Spanish friends enquire about paddling round the Isle of Wight. I’m not sure Yarmouth has quite the same ambiance.

    Day Nine: Cala en Turqueta to Cala en Bosc – Es una putada

    The original plan was to get up at 6.30am. The Tramontana is forecast for later in the day and we need to beat it as we’ve a flight booked for tonight back to Barcelona. At 3.30am the large tarpaulin under which we’re all bivvying is flapping like a loose sail. The wind comes through like a series of trains. You’re aware of a sound in the distance, gradually increasing in volume. It may be a cliché but then it hits like an express train and when it does, it’s much more sustained than a gust, lasting several minutes. This goes on for several hours and at 6.30am no-one stirs. We all know that an early start is now going to make no difference whatsoever.

    When we do get afloat it’s a beautiful day. The light’s fantastic, really clear and the mountains over on Mallorca that we saw 9 days before, when we set off are once again a feature on the horizon. We’ve around 8km to do down to Cap d’Artrutx. On the way we’re reasonably well sheltered by the cliffs, the problem is likely to be when we swing north into the teeth of the wind. For now though the counterpoint of the orangey cliffs, blue water and golden light are a real treat. There are yet more caves including one converted into a boat house and the highlight of the trip in bird-watching terms with an Osprey landing on the water in front of us.

    As we cross the final south coast bay of Cala en Bosc the skies start to cloud over. Under the lighthouse which guards Cap d’Artrutx we finally swing north and get a view of Ciutadella only 8km ahead. The waves though are huge and we’re finally exposed to the wind’s full strength which is ripping the tops off the substantial swell. Up ahead, I can see between us and our destination an even more confused section that we’ll need to cross. I realize that we’re not going to make it.

    Toni though seems determined to demonstrate to the less experienced paddlers the inevitability of the decision and we’re still paddling hard. The lighthouse is now on our right. I’m keeping track of our progress, or rather lack of it. After 40 minutes paddling the lighthouse is still just off to our right. We’ve no option but to turn round and retreat to the nearest harbour.

    After an exciting surf back past Cap d’Artrutx my thoughts turn back to our first day. Had the trip met my expectations? Well, in reality they’d been surpassed. I’d expected more beaches and if I’m honest some boring sections. This unquestionable was not the case, I remembered the great scenery, gorgeous cliffs, stunning coves, the miles of unspoilt and deserted coastline, the fantastically coloured and clear water.

    I’m brought back to the present as we reach the small harbour of Cala en Bosc. The narrow entrance is marked by a “No kayaks” sign. We ignore it! Suddenly though, we’re back among the tourists and it seems slightly surreal as we land our kayaks for the final time. This time, to the theme song from Titanic blaring from one of the local bars. Even though we’d failed to complete the trip, with the obvious disappointment, we’d virtually done so, only missing out a few miles.

    Would I recommend a paddle around Menorca? Absolutely, this ranks as one of my most enjoyable sea trips ever.

    For details of paddling trips on the Costa Brava contact Toni-Albert Puig Serra at Kayaking Costa Brava, C/ Enric Serra 42, 17130 L’Escala. Web: http://www.kayakingcb.com/ Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    A mis amigos nuevos de Cataluña, Segovia y Cantabria, muchas gracias por vuestra compañía y amistad. Hasta pronto.

    Phil Quill - 2006


    (First published in Paddles Magazine)

  • Costa Brava

    - illustrated trip report by Phil Quill.

    Costa Brava

     
    Phil Quill - 2000

     

    Last year I spoke to some sea paddlers who were clearly of the opinion that the Mediterranean Sea was a kind of big pond surrounded by sandy beaches full of tourists. Furthermore an absence of tides meant no currents and only calm water – think again guys!

    I’m reminded of this conversation as I battle my way around a rocky headland off the Cap de Creus on northwest Spain’s Costa Brava. There’s around 60 knots of wind blowing and Toni, Cesc and I are working hard in our sea kayaks despite the fact that we’re actually quite sheltered here under the cliffs, nevertheless it’s a relief to reach the bay and better protection from the wind. I’m supposed to be putting Cesc through his Three Star test and it has to be said that conditions seem a touch excessive! Cesc is a good paddler so the real test is much more of my Spanish than his paddling skills.

    Cesc works for Toni at Kayaking Costa Brava, the biggest hire operator of kayaks in this part of Spain with a shop in L’Escala and bases in Port Lligat, Cala Montgo, Tamariu, Platja de Castell and S’Agaro. While Toni’s main business during the height of the summer is getting out enough sit-on-tops for the considerable number of tourists that flock to the beaches in August his passion is undoubtedly for “real” sea kayaking. There’s a strong tradition of sprint and marathon racing in Spain and over the last 10 years white water paddling has seen a real boom.

    It seems strange then that the Spanish public have been quite slow to pick up on sea paddling. “Isn’t it dangerous?” is the most common question locals ask Toni. Perhaps this in part explains his policy of usually using a support boat – although there’s also the small matter of satisfying the requirements of the somewhat bureaucratic Civil Guard.

    If Toni is passionate about sea kayaking he’s also hugely enthusiastic about this coastline. Nobody knows it better than him and he’s keen to share the real delights of the Costa Brava with other paddlers. The next day he and I meet up at his shop in L’Escala. This is very different from most canoe shops, stocking only sea kayaks. With boats from Valley, Perception, Rainbow, Prijon, Nautiraid and more there’s a huge choice. I’m particularly impressed by some glass sea kayaks from Fun Run, a Spanish manufacturer I’d not heard of before. They’ve a range of boats, all good value at not much more than 1,000 Euros.

    We set off for Tamariu for one of Toni’s favourite paddles. Once in our kayaks we head north from this gorgeous little bay and rock-hop past the rose coloured cliffs. Immediately there’s a narrow cave to explore, then on through a narrow cut in the rocks. There’s still a strong wind blowing today so it’s worth using the shelter of the cliffs. Here is proof that the Med does has a tide, albeit a small one, the water’s undoubtedly lower than normal and we have to time the waves in order to cross a barrier of weed covered rocks. Even with the wind and despite the fact that it’s only mid-march the sun is still pleasantly warm.

    We make our way up to Aigua Xelida, literally “frozen water”. Here, there are loads of fresh water springs, some of them underwater. While swimming or snorkelling you can feel the sudden variations in temperature. Our next cave is larger, much deeper and with a wider opening that then narrows into a second chamber. This is Cova D’en Gispert, at around 150 metres deep it’s probably one of the most spectacular on the Costa Brava. East facing it’s at its most impressive on the two or three mornings of the year when the dawn sun completely illuminates the entire cave. It’s still pretty impressive today, looking back from the second chamber with surging waves booming around us, the light seems to be almost projected onto the calcite deposits here at the back of the cave.

    Over lunch on the beach at Aiguablava Toni enthuses about the paddling to be had here on the Costa Brava. I’m in total agreement, having previously paddled most of the coastline, it really is sensational. There’s always something of interest and with water this clear, weather this good and even if it is windy there’s always somewhere sheltered. For paddlers from the UK I’d recommend allowing five or six days to explore the coastline of the Costa Brava. Starting in the north, from the French border down to Roses is all stunning paddling, especially with an overnight bivvy in the refuge at Cala Culip in the heart of the Natural Park of Cap de Creus.

    You wouldn’t be missing anything then if you skipped the Golf de Roses but put back in at L’Escala to paddle past the high cliffs and down to the next conservation area of Illes Medes to the south. There’s then interesting paddling to be had all the way down to Blanes which marks the southern end of the Costa Brava. It’s worth taking a mask to use for some superb snorkelling and I’d also recommend taking a climbing harness and stop off at Sant Feliu where they’ve installed a Via Ferrata on the sea cliffs just to the north.

    Cut-price flights to Girona from London, Birmingham and Bournemouth make it incredibly cheap to get to the Costa Brava. For my last couple of trips it cost more to park the car at the airport in the UK than the cost of the flight itself. Get a small group together and Toni can provide help with the logistics and hire you good quality sea kayaks and kit, making it easy to organise a great trip. I’d avoid the peak August period, probably best is the spring or autumn, when you’ll have the coast largely to yourselves. Even early in the spring the water temperature never drops below 12 or 13 degrees while day-time temperatures in say April or October are up around 18 to 22 centigrade. Enjoy!

    Phil Quill - 2006

    For further information contact Toni at Kayaking Costa Brava on tel: 00 34 972 773 806 or fax: 00 34 972 775 394. Website: www.kayakingcb.com or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    ( First published in Canoe & Kayak)

  • Milos

    - pics from CSCC member's trip 6/04

    Chris and Joanna, sea kayaking on Milos

    In June 04 Chris and Joanna went sea kayaking in Milos, Greece with Sea Kayak Milos.

    Sea Kayak Milos was the subject of a feature in the 12-02 edition of Canoe Focus and others have written fairly detailed descriptions of kayaking around the coast of Milos such as this and this so I'll be brief.

    We took the option of an eight night stay with six guided paddling days. The kayaks and kit were  excellent and our friendly Greek-speaking Australian guide, Rod Feldtmann, has a familiar British-style approach to sea kayaking (he is pursuing relevant BCU qualifications and comes to Britain for training whenever he can fit it in). However Joanna was relieved to find that it was not necessary to eat seagulls, operate Trangia stoves, understand the rule of twelths or indulge in any other kind of beardedness. We simply enjoyed the fantastic coastal trips. The scenery round the coast of Milos is spectacular and there are dozens of sea caves and arches to explore as well as things like hot springs bubbling up from the sea bed, a recently wrecked ship, abandoned mines, and a ruined lighthouse to visit.

    The weather was hot so the pace was relaxed and we cooled off when necessary by paddling into the shade of sea caves, practising rescues, snorkeling and swimming in the incredibly clear water. On several days we did short open crossings to smaller islands lying off the coast of Milos.

    Rod's wife, Petronella, runs a guest house where we stayed, but Rod also offers camping trips. We had a great time and thoroughly recommend Milos as a warm water sea kayaking location suitable for all levels of paddling ability

     

     

     

     

     

    All images ©2004 CSCC/Chris Stephens

  • Sea Kayaking Brittany

    - report & pics from Mark & Heather Rainsley's trip to Brittany in summer of 2004.

    IMAGINED ISLES

    Sea Kayaking Brittany, Summer 2004

    by Heather Rainsley

    Heather in her new Capella

     

    Have you ever found yourself doing something amazing? Something new and special, that you’ll always remember. The exceptional thing for me about sea-kayaking is that this seems to happen almost every time I load up my boat and head out. On the water, the memories are there for the taking. The little things…like the smell of the ocean, how the light shines on the water when the sun’s going down. The big things…long journeys, exploring new places, meeting new challenges. This summer was no exception.

     

    Mark and I were in France with our sea kayaks, lots of food and even more camping gear. We had driven from the UK with a variety of maps and charts and a vague idea of spending the next two weeks exploring islands. Now we had arrived randomly on the shores of Brittany’s Gulf of Morbihan. If you are familiar with Dorset’s Poole Harbour, then you should find it easy to imagine this much larger natural harbour with its numerous sandy, tree covered islands. In addition, this boating paradise is well equipped with many of the fantastic bakeries and cafés that are such a staple of French holidays. We eagerly set about exploring the astonishing number of islands that are crammed into the Gulf. Every island was different; secluded beaches, ancient monuments, beauty spots and tourist honey pots. The waters were bustling with all manner of craft making their way between the islands. Locals were fishing and collecting oysters and generally enjoying life on the water. In the afternoons, the tide livened things up by making some fun waves and eddies between islands as it ran out.

    The general area

     

    Eventually, we started to feel crowded by all the other boats and longed for seclusion and the open sea. Peeking out of the entrance of the Gulf, we could just make out three islands on the horizon. Our chart told us they were Ile d’Houat, Ile d’Hoedic and Belle Isle. At thirteen miles, the shortest crossing from our camp site was to Ile d’Houat. We really wanted to go. But there were problems; we needed a falling tide to drag us out of the Gulf and propel us on our way across the ten miles of open sea. However the falling tide was in the afternoon when it tended to get windy and choppy.

    “That’s OK,” said Mark “We’ll do it tomorrow night.”

    Now perhaps I had a touch of sunstroke but at the time, it made perfect sense. Spend tomorrow packing the boats and then go to bed early, get up at two thirty am and set off. I think the sun must have really affected my normally timid spirit because part of me was pretty excited about making such a big (for me) open crossing in the dark.

     

    The alarm went off; I was sleeping so deeply that its loudness seemed to hurt me physically as well as assaulting my eardrums. I like my ‘eight hours’ in a night and rousing at half two in the morning is very painful. Before we could change our minds, we packed our sleeping bags and tent. At the water’s edge we shoved them into the already packed boats; which were waiting where we left them, an agonisingly short time earlier. The tide was just starting to fall and there was a soft warm breeze blowing off the land. There is something a bit special about being up and about when everyone else is asleep; although I have to say I wouldn’t do it often. Time to set off. We startled lots of fish as we paddled out over the dark water…and one or two of them startled us too, as they bumped against the bottom of the boat or jumped up right beside us.

     

    As we approached the mouth of the Gulf, the tide picked up and we were zipping along. Before we knew it, we had been squirted out of the Gulf and were on the open sea. The wind was behind us, a little brisker now but helpful. The journey had begun in earnest. The only sounds were those we made as we twisted and paddled and as the boats sliced through the water. We could see little outside the circle of our head-torches other than the distant lights we were aimed towards. I fell into a steady rhythm, probably pretty close to sleep and on we went. I can’t remember why we decided to turn off our torches but we did and then there was more magic on this strange dreamy night. The water lit up around us as we moved through it. This bioluminescence, as scientists call it, is made by tiny living things in the water. I wondered what people made of it before scientists put a name to it. I was awed and strangely comforted by these stripes and patches of light that we made as we went along in the dark. Fish that crossed our path made glowing green tunnels in the water and I didn’t tire of looking at it. Whenever we turned on our lights to check our charts or because we’d heard an engine, I was always keen to turn them off again as soon as possible so I could see the glowing water.

     

    The lights that we were heading towards gradually brightened and we were beginning to be able to pick out individual points in what had seemed one faint haze. Off to the East, the sky was starting to lighten and sadly the phosphorescence faded from view as the sea changed from black to grey. The offshore wind that had been helping us along was stiffer now and at times we were surfing along on small waves. Part of my mind felt I should be anxious about this, but I was comfortable and relaxed and my Capella was running smoothly so I just plodded on. Eventually, the horizon was filled with our island and the sky was light. The sun wasn’t up yet and we were nearly there. We paused to check the chart and Mark spotted a beach where we could camp. The feeling of arrival after a journey like this is almost indescribable. In the soft light of dawn we approached the island, the first fishing boats were setting off and an old chap in a smock was out checking his lobster pots. He asked us where we had come from and there was a real pleasure in pointing back to the distant smudge and telling him. The sun came up as we landed and Mark whipped out the camera to record this crossing that we both felt so pleased with. At the time, I felt elated and thought I was grinning from ear to ear. Later, looking at the photos, I realised I just looked really weary. No surprises there.

    Landing at dawn after the overnight crossing

     

    We pitched the tent in some dunes on a long empty beach of pure white sand, ate breakfast and fell asleep. When we woke again, the beach had been transformed. There were yachts out on the water and people sunbathing and promenading along the strand. We wandered along the shore, enjoying the holiday mood and still feeling smug about our special arrival. The rest of the day, we explored Ile d’Houat; its sandy beaches seeming endless. When the evening came, most of the other visitors went home on the ferry, leaving the beaches to us again.

     

    Another day, another island. A much shorter crossing this time took us to Ile d’Hoedic, a rockier and wilder feeling island whose granite bays made me think of Cornwall. We had lots of time to explore the few streets and the path round the island before finding a bar and enjoying café life French style. We were planning to cross to the largest island in the group next - Belle Isle - but it had been a while since we had seen a weather forecast and the weather seemed to be getting colder and windier which was a bit of a worry. Now, our French is not good. Neither of us studied it at school and what we do know has been picked up from one travel cassette and various menus. This is not the kind of vocabulary one should bring to a French weather forecast. Picture the scene; two strangely dressed tourists standing outside the town hall on an isolated island. They are huddled around a piece of paper pinned to the notice-board.

    “There’s a depression over the island.”

    “This island?”

    “No, hang about; there’s a depression over Iceland.”

    Luckily for us, we eventually found a weather report - specially designed for stupid tourists - that supplied us with symbols and numbers. Fortunately, the forecast showed the outlook improving; the conditions would be comfortable to cross to Belle Isle if we launched that afternoon. Another open crossing… piece of cake.

     

    We arrived on Belle Isle after sunset and once we’d camped and eaten it was too dark to see our surroundings. The following morning was foggy. Only after an hour on the water were we able to actually see the coast we were paddling along! Now there could have been no more perfect illustration of the meaning of the two words making up the name ‘Belle Isle’. It simply was…a very beautiful island. We were paddling along the Cote Sauvage - the wild coast – another perfect vocabulary lesson. The tall cliffs were sculpted and twisted into amazing shapes.

    Cote Sauvage

    Over two leisurely days we explored the inlets, caves and spires along the Cote Sauvage. This exploration began calm and settled and we were bemused to find that we were rarely alone on this exposed coast. Fishermen had scrambled down near vertical cliffs to fish from dauntingly exposed ledges. Snorkellers in wetsuits were fishing with harpoons in vast numbers...Frog-men! Families in fancy yachts and battered launches were gliding and puttering up and down the coast. We were met with nods and smiles and felt very much a part of this life on the water. As the coast curved northwards, it became more exposed to the Atlantic. A large swell was humping in. Paddling a mile off from the shore, we felt honoured to be there on the ocean. Feeling its rise and fall beneath us and hearing it crash on the cliffs to our right made us nervous and awed at the same time. An exhilarating day! As we rounded the Northern tip of the island – Pointe des Poulains - we noticed a lighthouse on the point. It seemed familiar. It is the subject of one of those ubiquitous ‘exploding wave’ lighthouse posters. And we have paddled round it!

     

    Days of Island exploration followed and suddenly it was time to think about making tracks to the mainland. We started our final four hour crossing in bright sunlight, early one morning. It was with sadness that we left Belle Isle behind. Glancing over our shoulders from time to time, we saw it shrink; at first filling the horizon and then getting smaller and fainter until eventually it disappeared altogether into haze. Finally we landed in the busy port of Quiberon and set foot on the mainland. At that very instant; fog descended and the wind got up. It was as though someone had been waiting for us to arrive and could now slam the door firmly behind us. Within minutes of our return to shore, it was as if we had only imagined our isles.

    Heather Rainsley - 2004.

    Click here for the full picture set from Mark and Heather's trip.

  • Southwest Costa Rica

    - illustrated report by Rob Gibbert.

    The Osa Peninsula Sea Kayak Expedition

    Story by Rob Gibbert, photo’s by Scott Hagerty and Rob Gibbert

     

    The Place:
    Southwest Costa Rica, from Sierpe along the Rio Sierpe to Golfito in the Golfo Dulce; a distance of 100 miles. March, 2005.

    Communication:

    I don’t speak Spanish very well. It takes me a long time to formulate the proper words, but I can enunciate tolerably. Unfortunately, the tico on the other end is thinking the gringo can speak his language and belts out something very fast, something rather machine gun like and entirely over my head.

    Hmmm, that wasn’t on the tapes; I think to myself. I ploddingly assemble a few words to form a coherent sentence, which is followed by an equally blank look by the tico. So begins two weeks in the country and ten days paddling along the Osa Peninsula with many opportunities in to practice my Spanish with those that have the patience to hear. We get by, but it ain’t pretty.

    Of all the friends I asked along, two joined me. Scott is a US Forest Service scientist and Brian a former Earth First! environmental activist. The evening conversations are interesting, to say the least. At latitude 8 degrees north there is 12 hours of darkness to absorb ourselves in topics of politics, sex, religion, gas mileage and the way Steve Irwin treats animals in The Crocodile Hunter. We have dinner in daylight as the gods snap the switch off after fifteen minutes of twilight.

    It is now time for a night hike in the jungle, where we continue our discussions. The three of us troop down the trail in Parque Nacional Corcovado and a pair of green eyes from the jungle floor stares back. I’m thinking snake, but there is a halo on the leaf litter. A bug about two inches long walks toward a tree heavily buttressed at the roots. We switch our headlights off and the bug is within a stage light of its own making. Bugs are now plugging in! We dub it the LED Cockroach, but later learn it is a Jamaican Click Beatle. Purple land crabs scurry away beneath our feet. Brian belts out a holler when he retires to his hammock. “Somehow” a crab found its way in there.

    Brian and crab

    Every conversation with a park ranger was difficult. They speak Spanish, and I Spanglish. I wait to dissect the words and analyze the context before I attempt a response. When I do respond, it is just as often I receive a blank look as I get to disseminate another sentence. “Clearly this man is an idiot,” they seem to laugh under their breath. But I am wrong about that, as the hospitality and patience expressed by the Ticos, the popular name for Costa Ricans, is inspiring.

    I could, however, read the warning on the sign in front of the river outlet: Peligro: No se bañe en el Rio! In a short conversation with Maria, El Jefe Parque guarda, she told me a three meter croc lived there and may return from the sea any day now. I don’t need a bath anyway.

    The Surf:

    Small Surf

    There are four rivers that drain the Playa Sirena area. A generous supply of sand shoals up the breaks throughout the year and the surf goes on seemingly forever. We landed here easily a couple days ago. There was a sneak route to which we had no previous knowledge. Barely got my hair wet. Scott and I rode in on the backs, while Brian surfed in. I don’t like surfing loaded boats in the middle of nowhere. I don’t like getting pummeled by surf in the middle of nowhere, either. But now we must leave and I spy the rip running out along the end of the beach along a small point. It looks like the easiest way out.

    I’m the last off the beach and watch Scott and Brian pop over a reef and paddle hard over a small set. So far we have no problems. Brian chose his line far to our right. Scott and I are a wavelength or two apart, but in the area of the rip. A large wave explodes in front of Brian and then another steepens menacingly. The last one he makes it over just fine. Scott and I ride over a couple of haystacks, wait out another and then glide to the open blue water. Our Feathercrafts are very tough boats, but I do not want to find their limits.

    It’s not always been that easy here. Our first day on the water we had to paddle down sixteen miles of jungle and mangrove river in high heat and one hundred percent humidity. A crocodile dove into the water in front of our boats and a closer inspection of the river bank revealed dozens of croc caves per mile. Of the five river bars along the Sierpe, we chose the bar next to the roughest bar on the coast, Boca Guaramal. We chose it for its isolation and scenic potential. Locals avoid it as it’s rough, though some said it was calmer. Only Boca Zacate a mile to the north would the breaks be impossible for us to get out of, three fourths of a mile of breakers offshore; whitewater to the horizon. At Guaramal we sat on the berm separating the river from the sea and watched the breakers. At low tide it looked like a festival of pain and severe hydration.

    Boca Guaramal

    Ninety minutes past low water the breaks level out. We stick our helmets over our nervous smiles and ride the current out into the first of them. Brian, in his hand built folding kayak, is a wavelength or two in front and Scott a wavelength or two behind me. After popping over foam piles and reformed greenish white water we reach the cutting board, the place where the big green swells break with the most violence. Brian appears vertical on the face of an eight footer and the wave breaks and washes over him. He lands upside down on the back of the wave. A quick roll and he sprints further out. We spend several minutes fighting and timing. I would love to photograph this, but quite frankly I don’t have the stones to take my hands off the paddle. All of us are nervous but we seem to be completely outside until a large set makes the shoals we are over fire off again. After twenty minutes in whitewater we chase the sun down to Isla Violín to set up camp in the only coastal cutout we dare to ride in on.

    There are no problems landing despite a crux move necessary to avoid harpooning a cliff. The next day we screw up what would have been a clean exit from the beach at high water and it isn’t until after ninety minutes past high water we get away into a breaking maelstrom of growing surf and closeout faces. The shoaling from a southerly branch of the Rio Sierpe flowing out to half a mile away has caused chaotic low water surf action.

    Brian is off the beach first and I have his camera. It is odd that he put a half pound climber’s Karabiner with three feet of webbing on the housing. I let it ride unsecured in my sea sock as my deck bag has no room for it. I am off the beach next but I hear Scott yelling at me from behind with an alarmed tone. Unfortunately, I remove my eyes from the wave in front of me half expecting catastrophe. All I see is him trying to tell me something but I cannot hear him. The wave pitches me rearward and when the stern punches into the sand I go over and have to heave a hundred and thirty pounds of kayak off me to free myself from being pinned in the sand. If there are any Chinese readers of this site, please be on the lookout for a Canon digital in an underwater housing distinguished by a half pound karabiner and nylon webbing. It will be riding very low, but is sure to arrive in your waters soon.

    Camping:

    Brian at Camp 1

    When the light is dying there is only one thing to do: make sure your hammock is up and that which you need for the night is easily accessible. We arrived at the beach on Isla Violín and found a small cut out in the shoreline revealing a clean path into the forest. The trees were at respectable intervals to hang the hammocks. Wet things were hung to dry and evening clothes put on. I dropped into the hammock and sunk until I bounced off the coconuts and leaves on the forest floor. I retied the lines and a column of pissed off ants walked off their branch and marched up my arm demanding a retreat from there. They died from the permethrin impregnated in my clothes before they reached my shoulder.

    Ants!

    At the San Pedrillo ranger station the rough jungle setting was replaced by a perfect beach backdrop. The coconut trees served as a perfect hitch for the hammocks. We unleashed our machetes on the plentiful green coconuts for drink mix and seasoning for the fish the ranger lady brought by. Brian just likes to eat the coconuts. Scott and I like to mix the milk in our rum. Camping on the Osa peninsula offers a great mix of primitive beach and jungle camps or back country ranger station sites. Any camping within the park must be at a station.

    Scott at the hammocks

    The River

    Along the Playa Sirena region, we tour up the Rio Sirena for the day, alternating between paddling and dragging the kayaks over the shallows. Monkey’s skim through the tree limbs, wailing and howling. A flock of Scarlet Macaws cruise overhead. I can think of no noisier species, but their shocking red, yellow and blue plumage is unbelievable against a deep blue sky. We spot a small crocodile and a caiman further on up the river. On our return to the river mouth one of the crocs along the bank dives into the water literally just in front of my bow. The river channel is barely big enough for both of us. I hear a laugh coming from Scott:

    “Hey Rob, he’s hungry!”

    I back paddle a few strokes waiting for Scott to come alongside, effectively increasing my odds to fifty-fifty.

    Crocs!

    In Full View of Others:

    The La Leona ranger station sits behind Playa Madrigal. A vicious dumping break guards the beach from seaward and while we wait offshore counting periods and sets, a small crowd gathers on shore. A ranger and her interns plus a set of sweaty backpackers look out to sea as the kayak gringos prepare to land. I hate launching and landing on dumpy beaches and now we have an audience.

    The wave backs are three to four feet and there is only one break, so we cannot see the face. The whole wave face a hundred and fifty yards wide dumps at once, launching a geyser several feet high. It creates its own winds. Several seconds later another wave forms and another geyser pops. Every minute or so, a lull of just a few seconds occurs. I slip over the back of the wave and pop over the foam pile to freedom. In less than a minute I’m on the beach and pulling Brian in to shore. As I wave for Scott to follow; he looks back to the sea and quickly applies a few back paddle strokes. But it’s too late for Scott. I watch the water draw Scott up the face, how small he looks. The face closes and for a moment we see just the maelstrom. A moment later Scott is trying to roll up on the cutting board, but a follow up wave applies the coup de grâce. Scott either is ripped out or he swam out, but nonetheless as the bow is pointing shoreward he crawls up the stern and hops into the cockpit paddling like hell for shore in the flooded boat.


    Scott at the Cape

    The following morning there are more campers and beach strollers gathered on the hill watching for potential carnage. The break is as big as yesterday and we space ourselves fifty yards apart. There is only one wave and one lull to watch for. When the wave breaks it appears to come over a deeper channel than what the wave broke over. The foam pile becomes quite weak and we can get close to the wave face without getting hammered. It is only in this area where there is a risk of collision with each other, but it is of short duration and the lull, theoretically, should allow us all out quickly. But I look back on the hill and am wondering if they will be witness to a train wreck. I do not like testing theories out in full view of others. We rise up the foam pile and there is a wave building behind the one about to crash. We rise above and it is still not yet time to sprint. We rise above once more and I can see it is clean beyond. It is a short fast sprint over the next wave beginning to form but there is no more to trouble ourselves over. We hoot a farewell to those above and paddle down the coast towards Cabo Matapalo, the sentinel to Golfo Dulce.

    Rob at Cabo Matapalo

    Beyond the rock promontory and the offshore islet a gaggle of surfers line up on a world famous point break. We ride the six foot swells around the cape and into the gardens wracked with foam and aquamarine water. After landing we swim, relax in the sun, and watch the parade of Macaws fly along the shore, as well as the monkeys tearing through the top limbs of the trees. Watching the surfing action from the board surfers is good; as Scott and I prep for dinner, Brian joins them on the break.

    We have had an ongoing discussion about surfing our boats for fun in a roadless wilderness. The themes of the discussion are: how will you fix your boat and with what? How well do you know the beach? How do we fix you? It is one thing to launch and land every day in it, and another thing to just go out and surf. However, there are now roads and no more than 20 miles to walk or hitch hike or drag an improvised stretcher into Puerto Jimenez, the only town with a bus to the rest of Costa Rica. Through the binoculars I can now see Brian paddle hard to catch a wave. Ironically, he chose this particular break right in front of a beautiful woman he was admiring through these glasses a short time before. He is surfed forward and goes level on his back deck trying to keep from pearling. He cannot escape the wave or its rocky destination. As the wave breaks, he pearls onto rocks and clatters to a scratching, thudding halt. He turns over, rolls up as a pair of deck fittings are ripped from his kayak. His solar panel, long rendered useless by corroded fittings flops into the water. The woman on the beach seeing Brian rise, claps and says:

    “That was great.”

    The Heat:

    My sweat index rises exponentially once the temperature and humidity go above ninety. The big hat helps as does the long sleeve nylon shirt. Brian has a huge floppy hat and when he puts his helmet over it we get a good chuckle, a veritable extra from the homeless rendition of Star Wars. He’s also lost his sunglasses and I give him my extra pair. Scott gives him a pair of gloves to keep the sunburn from frying his Nordic skin. I’m partly Hispanic and though speaking Spanish is unfortunately not genetically acquired, my skin does a bit better down here. The SPF 45 helps, too.

    Despite the nearly gallon of fluids we drink there are no pee breaks. I couldn’t impress my friends with my sculling high brace pee maneuver. The liquids go in but only come out from sweat. The sweat stings my eyes and a rolled bandana over the brow does wonders for temporarily keeping the sweat out of them. Drinking warm water or Gatorade becomes tedious.

    Punta Lloron

    While cruising along the rocks and reefs of Punta Llorona, the extreme west tip of the Osa peninsula, we are enjoying our review of last night’s events. The sky is cloudy, warm and the air thick with the smell of wet jungle and warm, salty seas. The conditions are calm so we ride in close. It’s already ninety degrees at eight o’clock in the morning. But I’m happy as it is probably sideways rain and forty back in Seattle. I love a cool wet garment that catches the slightest breeze and delivers results. Last night it was a different story.

    It’s usually too hot to sleep well. The sweats pour out over the skin, beading up on the nylon hammock behind my arms and ribs. I feel like I’m riding on the Slip and Slide in my childhood backyard, but a sea breeze comes in and delivers the soft, sweet breath of cool sleep. The crack and boom of the skies precede by seconds the thick drops splashing off the fly on my hammock. A tiny trickle seeps in as I’ve done a bad job of setting the fly, but I try to ignore it.

    The skies crack open again and the rain falls hard. In the other hammocks the guys start to moan. I look up and through the screen remember they are sleeping without the flies attached.

    “Bummer to be you dudes!” I yell out with a laugh.

    Scott tumbles out the bottom of his hammock first and fumbles in vain for his fly. He cannot find it. It’s probably still in his kayak. Brian emerges from his hammock now turned tropical fish aquarium completely buck nekkid. I can’t stop laughing. I readjusted my canopy and plop satisfactorily back into my dry cocoon. A few minutes later the “fish tank boys” have added the canopies and try to sleep through the wet and chill. The breeze picks up and for the first time in a week I curl into the thin sleeping bag liner I use on such trips. The fish tank boys are freezing, tossing and turning, praying for the great light of dawn and another long, hot day. The frogs erupt like applause in the pond behind our tents. Through the rain and the breeze and the frogs I slept like a baby.

    Story by Rob Gibbert, photo’s by Scott Hagerty and Rob Gibbert - 2005

  • The Sound of Desolation

    - paddling in British Columbia, August 2003 - trip report by Mark Rainsley. (illustrated)

    The Sound of Desolation

    …sea kayaking without anoraks, British Columbia, August 2003

    First published in 'Paddles' Magazine

    Full Gallery of Desolation Sound photos by Mark Rainsley

    "Mark, wake up! There's a bear right outside our tent".
    "Don't be silly dear; that's just a seal snoring".

    Here in Britain, sea kayaking has a rather sorry 'anorak' image…we tend to associate the sport with unkempt facial hair, boiled seagulls and questionable social skills. Sea kayaking articles in the paddling press don't help; they traditionally focus on such riveting aspects as compass bearings and the inner workings of the Trangia Stove. Whatever the reasons for this image, it does a fine sport no justice at all. My wife and I have learned not to mention our secret habit in civilised company, if we want to be invited on the next whitewater trip. UK sea paddlers for whom this all rings bells, may be surprised to learn that there is 'another place', where sea kayakers can be loud and proud; where 'Ocean Kayaking' is seen as a perfectly healthy eco-friendly lifestyle pursuit, with a multi-million dollar leisure industry built around it. Sea kayaks are sold in High Street stores alongside running shoes and bikinis, and there are more sea kayakers than mountain bikers. Paddlers arriving off the plane from the UK might think that they've arrived on Mars…but they're actually in British Columbia.

    A bit of scene-setting. The Pacific coast of Canada is an epic wilderness of mountainous islands and deep fjords, formed by glaciers spilling down from British Columbia's Coast Range Mountains. So…it's very big, it's very wild. But…this isn't going to be a heroic tale of half-starved heroics on raging seas. Heather and I paddled in one titchy and sheltered part of this region, known as Desolation Sound. Nobody suffered, no one even got tired, nothing scary happened, the food was actually rather decent and the distances conquered can be measured in hundreds of yards. It was all quite pleasant, just as sea kayaking should be.

    Desolation Sound was named in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver sailed into the area, found absolutely nothing of interest, and went away again. The full title today is 'Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park', and I'm boring myself just typing it. All you need to know is that it's a protected Park which can only be reached by boat. Designating any single part of the surrounding region as a 'Park' is as pointless as awarding sashes at a Miss World contest, it's all gorgeous! We enjoyed a small snippet of the area but suffice to say, it didn't matter too much, which direction we headed.

    Heather and I had been ambling across Canada for over a month, paddling whitewater rivers large and small. We were due to jet out of Vancouver soon, but first I'd promised Heather that we'd dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean. First, we prodded a random place name on the map…'Desolation Sound' had a certain 'buzz' to it. Next, an Internet cafe supplied a solution; I typed the words 'sea kayak rental desolation sound' into a Search Engine and up popped the website for 'Powell River Sea Kayak Ltd.'. I wrote down their phone number and called up to book a double kayak. I believe everything I read on the Internet, but for all I knew I was giving my credit card details to a fifteen year old in Russia.

    Getting there was surprisingly unsimple. We returned our longsuffering hire car and stashed our creek boats at Vancouver Airport's left luggage office (buying new boats would have been cheaper). Next, we caught the only bus to Powell River. This took six hours including two ferries up the coast, before we were dropped off in an unprepossessing shopping mall. We were indeed in the town of Powell River. The catch was that 'Powell River Sea Kayak Ltd.' were based well, somewhere else. We weighed ourselves down with food supplies at the Megamart and made the next hop, a taxi ride thirty kilometres north. A night of camping, a last supper at 'Laughing Oyster' restaurant (bizarrely luxurious, given that it's located somewhere off the edge of most maps) and we were finally ready to collect our kayak.

    We'd booked a Current Designs Crosswind, a vast barge of a plastic double kayak. I'd heard that the North American trend was for wider kayaks, but this was practically the Ark Royal. And why not? It was slow, but hugely stable and here was a boat that absolutely anyone could hop into and handle. Here in the UK, we sneer at sea kayaks which aren't narrow and responsive…and then wonder why so few take up our sport. Anyway, the only catch was that this double didn't have a centre hatch for stowing gear. This was a bit of an issue as Heather is, well, a girl. She'd brought enough clothes to sink a Dreadnought and fitting it all in required a subtle combination of lateral thinking and brute force. By the time we'd cracked this puzzle, the tide had receded leaving the boat high and dry, surrounded by large jagged oysters. These, somewhat rudely, kept spitting at us. We had to get help to lift the boat to the water's edge, these doubles weigh some! The embarrassment continued as we weaved erratically up the sea inlet, barely in control; my UK sea kayak conditioning had told me that rudders were a bad thing, so I'd disconnected it. A quick tinker on the shore and it was back in service; suddenly we had complete control and our boat worked like a dream.

    We'd launched onto the Okeover Inlet, basically the back entrance into Desolation Sound. We were against the tide, ferry gliding and eddy hopping upstream until the shores opened out and we entered Desolation Sound itself. We were wowed. Blue water below, blue sky above. Trees shrouded the hills right down to the shoreline, with a backdrop of sharp ice-shrouded peaks. We headed out into open water, with a small group of islands as our target. Leaving the shore behind, something occurred to me…we'd been in the same boat for a few hours now, and we hadn't bickered once. Weird. This state of affairs was to endure throughout our trip. Must be something in the water?

    The Curme 'Islands' turned out to be little more than lumps of rock with high aspirations. We chose a rock ledge directly at the water's edge as our campsite and hopped ashore to unload. Whilst I faffed about with the tent, Heather's organisation prior to the trip now paid off; it turned out that we had food, and good food at that. If she hadn't shopped, we'd have been surviving on a tin of curry and a large bag of wine gums. Not only this, it turned out that she'd hidden a pile of tinnies behind her seat. Truly dire Canadian beer, but beer nonetheless. Gotta love that woman.

    Next morning, we had a lie-in to compensate for a lousy night of sleep. Our rock ledge had turned out to be whatever the equivalent of a nightclub is for seals. Hang about. Seals. Clubbing. There has to be a joke there. Anyway, we'd missed the tide…it was a ten foot drop to the water and loading and launching was a bit of a comedy moment. Once on the water, we crossed to nearby Mink Island and our outing practically ceased motion hereabouts. The woman in the front of the kayak studied Ecology at University and Mink Island's coast was apparently all of an ecologist's dreams come true at once. Every few yards we had to halt whilst Heather pointed out all creatures great and small; deer, seals, gulls various, mussels, a bald eagle, oystercatchers, whacky jellyfish, seals, sea lions, a porpoise, grebes and more seals. Flora and fauna has to try hard to get me excited, but even I was freaked by the starfish and sea stars. These were absurdly enormous, colourful and well, everywhere.

    When we finally left Mink, it was mid-afternoon and darned hot. Ice cream emergency! A check of the chart and an hour later, we pulled into Refuge Cove. This was a tiny mooring hidden up an inlet with float planes being the only outside link. When we pulled up alongside the quay, we were redirected…to the kayak quay. I thought we were the victims of a wind-up, until we rounded the corner and found a pint-sized landing stage with a sea kayak already moored. Surreal. Refuge Cove basically amounted to a ramshackle store but what a store; anywhere that stocks thirty flavours of ice cream gets my vote.

    The target for the evening was a campsite at the head of this inlet but frankly, we couldn't be bothered. The sun was shining, the water was warm and lethargy hit hard after we left Refuge Cove. The first beach we saw was good enough and we sunbathed and swam until the sun went down. Ancient logged trees formed a natural table and chairs to enjoy a spectacular sunset.

    The stars came out and utter darkness ensued. Something wasn't right. The sea looked…wrong. We skipped stones out onto the water and, bloody hell! The sea lit up. Phosphorescence. We had seen this phenomenon before in British waters but only as a mild sparkling effect. Here, it was, whoa, who switched the headlights on? We hopped into our kayak and paddled out into the black. Incredible, our paddles generated luminous swirls of plasma in the water. Green, pink, blue. Most astonishingly, long glowing tunnels appeared in the water around us…fish swimming! I don't hold an ecology degree, but I can hazard an explanation; the sea in this part of the world is warm (79F) and utterly dense with teeming life; every inch is crammed with plankton and microscopic jellyfish. When this lot lights up, you get a lightshow that makes November 5th look lame. We've been around a bit and seen a few things…but we will never forget what we saw that night, let alone find adequate words to describe it.

    In the morning we locked and loaded, and headed out again. Our pressing need was for fresh water, and we were able to find a lone house across the way on Cortez Island with a tap and an obliging owner. Plodding back into Desolation Sound, we made an open crossing and eventually made landfall on a beach at the head of the Malaspina Peninsula. Hilarity ensued when I realised that we'd left the tent poles behind at our last campsite. Well, I thought it was hilarious. Heather seemed to believe it was entirely my fault and wasn't especially appreciative of my 'Blue Peter' attempts to keep our flaccid tent erect.

    Our beach was back on the mainland, but a long way from any MacDonald's. Heather now produced a mysterious bundle from a deep recess in the kayak; it was a fishing rod, bought in a moment of (presumably) complete insanity. We paddled around in circles near our campsite. I provided the propulsion whilst Heather fumbled with the rod in the front. Neither of us had fished before (and proud of it!) so a modicum of incompetence ensued. Eventually the line went taut. I laughed my socks off…of course she had snagged the hook on the bottom. But she hadn't. A rather peeved looking rockfish popped up and was bagged. The hook went back into the water, and another fish emerged, in under a minute. And so on. It was ludicrously easy, the fish were practically jumping into the kayak. How can this be sport? Back in camp, it turned out that knife-wielding Heather knew how to convert these unfortunate fish into food. The things I don't know about my wife, you could write a book. Dinner has never tasted better. So, you heard it here first; fishing is great fun. From now on, you can find me on the riverbank, hurling abuse at paddlers and claiming to own the place.

    Our final morning saw an early start; we were on a schedule to reach Vancouver that night. Suddenly, we seemed able to paddle like we knew what we were doing; a bit of co-ordination and we ticked off the miles effortlessly. Our barge seemed to have become a much sleeker craft (because I'd finished all the wine gums?) and we literally shot along south. We passed the length of the 'Copeland Islands Marine Park' in pretty much the amount of time needed to say that, pausing only to note that it was a reserve for the protection of rockfish …oops, at least they had tasted good. The scenery was grand, an open vista past innumerable islands right across to the far glaciers of Vancouver Island. We were winding up our trip, but all we could see in each direction was more trips; we'd barely dipped our toes in the region's possibilities.

    As we pulled into the harbour of Lund, we really did not want to finish. We returned the kayak to Powell River's offices there, and stuffed our gear into rucksacks. We'd been privileged to glimpse one of the more beautiful corners of our planet. Not only that, we'd briefly existed in a parallel universe where sea paddling is…well, cool. Our fantastic voyage had ended far too soon, but now we had a plane to catch. Could we be in Vancouver before nightfall? We stuck our thumbs out and mission impossible commenced…

    Mark Rainsley thanks Perception Kayaks and Nookie Equipment for their continuing support.

    Further info… http://www.bcseakayak.com - Powell River Sea Kayak and Rockfish Kayak companies; they hire equipment and organise guided trips. http://wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/desolation.htm - Official bumf on the Desolation Sound Marine Park.

    Full Gallery of Desolation Sound photos by Mark Rainsley

    Mark Rainsley.

     

  • Walking with Sharks

    - well illusrated report by Chris Scott on paddling in Shark Bay, Western Australia.

    Walking with Sharks

    Chris Scott

     

    “Why doesn’t anyone paddle around Shark Bay, Jeff? It seems like a great place. ”
    “I think the name puts them off a bit” he replied. “It’s famous for big tiger sharks; National Geographic made a documentary there once.”


    “Oh” I said. “I thought it was just a name...”

    It was 2am in a roadhouse on the Coastal Highway north of Perth, Western Australia (WA). I’d flown in from London that evening with my inflatable kayak rolled up in a backpack and together with Jeff’s girlfriend Sharon we hit the road for the 1000-kilometre drive to Shark Bay. The ‘bay’ actually comprises two thin peninsulas protruding north for 200 kilometres and is best known for the daily dolphin visits on Monkey Mia beach. A regular tide of tourists flows in and out of the resort there, but I suspected there was more to see in the rest of the Shark Bay area than Flipper and the family.

    As dawn broke we crossed the 26th parallel with a sign welcoming us to the fabled “Nor’ West”. Jetlag meant I’d been conveniently alert for the overnight drive, but I still had a couple of frights, swerving around kangaroos – an ever-present menace in outback Australia. The sun rose as we rolled into Denham, Shark Bay’s only settlement, a mixture of snowbirds jammed into the caravan park, pristine retirement bungalows and some fishing and tourist operations.


    Our plan was not that ambitious. Paddle north from Denham about 60 kilometres to the tip of the Peron Peninsula, round Cape Peron to the east, and paddle the same distance back south to Monkey Mia Resort: about a one-week trip. We aimed to take advantage of the prevailing southwesterlies on the exposed northward stage and deal with the same as headwinds on the more sheltered southbound leg. But first we followed a network of 4WD tracks to the tip of Cape Peron and buried a cache of food and drinking water at our halfway point. There was no water to be had on our route and even the townsfolk of Denham have to pay a premium for desalinated drinking water. Jeff and Sharon’s Perception Eco Niizh has the capacity of a sea-going RV but my non-bailing Gumotex Sunny is less of a load-carrier and I was keen not to reduce my freeboard too much.

    To the Big Lagoon
    With our cache stashed under the paprika-red cliffs of Cape Peron, at dawn the following day we set out to sea: Jeff and Sharon in their tandem hardshell sea kayak and me on my not so shark-proof ‘lilo’. The reliable southwesterly pushed us steadily north, but within an hour wind turned on us, obliging us to dig in for what ended up being two and a half days.

    We ploughed on, buoyed up by sightings of the extraordinarily rich marine life that gives Shark Bay its World Heritage status. Sharon had a checklist of must-sees: turtles, sharks, rays, dolphins and dugongs (sea cows) – and by our first beach break a green turtle had already passed beneath her bows. The pale green water was often only waist deep up to a kilometre off shore and that afternoon, weary from paddling against the wind, we took to towing our kayaks. As we waded through the shallows, manta rays submerged on the sandy seabed took flight, zooming off as if shot from a bow, their upturned wings surfacing momentarily like twin fins. Strike two for Sharon.

    Twenty kilometres out to sea Dirk Hartog Island broke the horizon; the westernmost point of Australia. The eponymous Dutch seafarer recorded the first European landing there in 1616, nailing an inscribed pewter plate to a pole. What he saw of the newfound Terra Australis was uninspiring: flat, arid and dense with scrub. It was another 150 years before Captain Cook mapped Australia’s less harsh east coast and brought about British colonization.

    Another lone pole marks the mouth of Big Lagoon and as we rounded the entrance a mass of cormorants took flight, the air filling with the whiff of their oily wings. Though we’d snacked on some oysters during our afternoon wade, the hard paddling has given us all an appetite and we pulled in among some mangroves for an overdue feed and a reappraisal. It was already 4 o’clock and with the tide and the wind against us we decided to leave the exploration of Big Lagoon for another day and scooted across the channel to the nearest sandy beach. We were beat but thrilled by our first day’s efforts and an hour after sundown were zipped up in our tents and fast asleep.

    Walking with Sharks
    The lagoon was glassy calm next morning and we set off to make the most of it. Watching our boats glide over the seabed was to be a rare pleasure; round the corner out in the open the northwesterly was waiting for us. Heads down, we worked our way up the shoreline, occasionally man-hauling the kayaks for a change of pace. As we did so tiny fish skimming over the surface alerted us to the distinctive tail and dorsal fins chasing them and soon metre-long sharks began darting between our boats, racing at us then veering off at the last minute in a flurry of spray. We presumed our bulky kayak silhouettes kept them from actually going for us, something which Sharon confirmed as she walked away from the boat - and then ran screaming - for the beach with sharklets homing in for a nip!

    Presently the waters cleared and we hopped back in for a paddle, steering out into the wind around sand banks below a line of ochre-red cliffs several kilometres long. It looked like a great place to camp so we hauled the boats in over the sand flats and with daylight to spare, wandered off up and down the deserted beach in search of firewood. I found a washed-up conch the size of a watermelon while Sharon and Jeff came across a midden of oyster shells left either by 19th-century pearlers or by the Yamatji Aboriginal people who’d occupied the Bay prior to colonization.

    Cape Peron
    Up with the sun again, but there was no calm put-in this morning. It would be another tough struggle to reach Cape Peron and our cache. By 9am Jeff estimated it was blowing at 20 knots.
    “What’s that in English!?” I yelled through the spray.
    “About 30 clicks!”
    Was it possible to paddle against 30kph? My blow-up boat flexed over the swell as the Indian Ocean crashed against the shore. Still, every vicious headwind had a silver lining and as we dug away a pair of dolphins popped up to say G’day. Less than 48 hours into our sea safari and we now had only the elusive dugongs to tick off.

    By noon the seas were getting as big as I’d ever experienced but I figured as long as Jeff and Sharon didn’t disappear behind the swell it couldn’t be that bad. After a quick shore snack we set off across Broadhurst Bight, a punishing slog with confused seas barging into our boats from all sides. Occasionally I had to clip onto Jeff’s stern to bail my boat out as the distant shore inched by. Eventually we staggered onto a sandy headland, having covered just five kilometres across the Bight in two hours. The good news was that our morning’s efforts had put us just a couple of clicks from our cache at Cape Peron and sure enough, just forty minutes later, with my boat swilling with seawater, we managed to land.

    The Cape is one of the few places in WA where you can see the sun set and rise over the sea, but that day it was just too exposed for a camp. Anyway, there was another reason we were keen to keep going: we were turning south and the wind would at last be out of our face! We loaded up the stash, launched back off the beach and, once the two boats were lashed together for stability, Jeff hoisted his secret weapon: a Pacific Action sail which filled instantly with a satisfying slap. Soon we were skimming along at two or three times our paddling speeds, water lapping over our bows, past the lighthouse at Skip Jack Point and southeast into Herauld Bight.

    Sailing with Dugongs
    We were sitting back, dangling our arms in the water, enjoying chatting without yelling and generally feeling rather pleased with ourselves when the ever-observant Sharon exclaimed “Dugongs!!” Below us three-metre long mud-coloured profiles emerged against the dark seagrass bank on which they were feeding. Before long we were right among a herd of twenty or more sea cows, which had been caught unawares by our stealthy windborne raft. At times our bows nearly ran over them, the water ahead of us exploding as their powerful tail flukes blasted them out of range. Once clear, they’d pop up to catch their breath and take a curious look back at our asymmetric contraption.

    The encounter with the strange dugongs was a highlight but after nearly three days with our heads down, sailing was up there too and we wanted all we could get. We pushed on from one cape to the next until we eventually ran into the shallows of Herault Bight. Our unexpected run downwind had doubled our day’s mileage but it was already getting dark. I went foraging for firewood while Sharon and Jeff got cooking. Although Jeff had been fishing out of the boat for days, short of the Big Five, we’d not spotted a single mealworthy fish.

    My boat sat on its edge between two paddle shafts, sheltering the camp while the wind fanned the nearby fire. Soon wafts of a gorgeous and faintly familiar aroma began to drift across to us. Intrigued, I walked back to the fire and realised one especially large chunk was sandalwood. A century ago Western Australia had got rich supplying sandalwood incense to Asian temples and the very last reserves were said to be in Shark Bay area. And I’d inadvertently chucked some of it on the fire! We pulled the log off, wolfed down another meal and, with the wind still blasting down the bight, retreated to our tents.

    Across Hopeless Reach
    That night a storm blew through, filling my fly-less tent with water and turning Jeff and Sharon’s inside out. By the time all was dry and packed next morning the tide had come in to meet us and we headed off towards the curious Guichenault Point, a pencil-thin spit that protrudes a kilometre from the shoulder of Herault Bight like a jetty. The west wind was so strong we had to clamp the rafted kayaks close together as we windsurfed the five kilometres to the Point in just half an hour. As we turned the tip of the spit half an hour later, the usual array of cormorants took to the air, joined by portly pelicans rising effortlessly onto the wind.

    We were now entering Hopeless Reach, one of many gloomily named bodies of water christened by early visitors to Shark Bay. Fittingly, our downwind cruise came to an end. Though for the rest of the day promising tailwinds occasionally spiralled down from the cliffs, it was back to good old-fashioned paddling, albeit on much smoother water.

    We were already nearing Monkey Mia Resort and so decided to string out our time with shoreside excursions up the cliffs, sailing at 1mph for the hell of it and more fruitless fishing. By mid-afternoon we could see Cape Rose a few kilometres from the resort. A pearl farm pontoon was moored up ahead and Jeff was keen not to get too close. He’d once worked on such a platform and knew how edgy the crew could get when strangers approached; guns were often pulled. We paddled slowly by but as we got nearer it was clear it was unoccupied and so we headed ashore to make the most of our last wild camp.

    Back on the water next morning and suddenly it was nearly all over. A lone bottlenose dolphin cruised past me and a pod cavorted around Jeff and Sharon as I tried to grab a shot. But soon buzzing outboards and a tourist catamaran took their place as we neared the resort. By the size of the crowd strung out along the palm-lined beach, a ranger-led dolphin encounter was in progress.

    We beached the boats one last time and headed to the café for a king-size fry-up before Jeff hitched back to Denham to collect the van. As I washed down my kayak with our excess fresh water another visitation ensued. Sure it’s fun seeing a dolphin close up, but the three of us could not help feeling rather smug about our discoveries out in the Bay. They were standing ankle deep with half-tame dolphins but we’d worn the paint off our paddle shafts, sailed with dugongs and walked with sharks!

    There are more pictures - click here


    When
    WA’s west coast is better known for wind surfing and of course scorching summers so the best time to paddle around Shark Bay is the middle the southern winter (our summer) so your water consumption will be much reduced. Winds at this time usually come from the southwest and are managable, as are temperatures at around 25°C in the day and 10°C at night. Cyclones affect the northern coast, especially at the start and end of summer, with the exposed North West Cape especially prone to storms.

    Getting there
    Shark Bay is 1000km north of Perth along the North West Coastal Highway. Roadhouses are up to 200kms apart and not open round the clock. Besides the already mentioned hazard of night-time kangaroos, triple-trailer road trains should also be treated with caution. Car rental in Perth is among the cheapest in Australia.

    Planning
    For sea kayak touring you’re on your own in Shark Bay; we’d only ever heard of one other person doing it although it’s clearly a great location and straightforward to organise. You’ll need to bring or rent your own boats and gear although the supermarkets in Denham will have all the provisions you need.

    Access
    Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and part of the Shark Bay Marine Park, no special permits are required to paddle Shark Bay. In one or two places there are basic 4WD-access only camp sites which lead back to Denham but all you’ll find in these places is a toilet and the odd recreational fisherman.

    While in the Shark Bay area don’t miss out on a visit to Eagle Bluff Lookout, Shell Beach (made up of millions of tiny shells) and the strange stromatolites. Rock-like lumps of algae, Earth’s earliest known life form evolved 3.5 billion years ago and today survive in the hyper-saline lower reaches of the Bay too salty for predators.

    Alternatives
    Shark Bay’s sheltered lagoons make it an ideal introduction to sea kayak touring in WA. Elsewhere the coast is more exposed. You can rent hardshell sea kayak out of Freemantle or Rottnest Island near Perth, as well as on the North West Cape alongside the fabulous Ningaloo Reef, another 500km north of Shark Bay. That’s where we’re heading for next year.

    Health hazards
    We stumbled across a relatively harmless shark nursery; bigger tiger sharks tend to stay out in the deeper water where there is more to eat. A much more likely hazard is exposure from the sun, reflected glare and wind. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeved shirt and sun glasses and use sun block.

    Maps
    A good marine chart of the Peron Peninsula can be obtained from the Perth Map Centre. 900 Hay Street Perth. Tel +618 9322 5733, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Websites
    http://www.sharkbay.org gives a full picture of the area’s many interesting features.
    http://www.topkayaker.net focuses on sit-on-top and inflatable kayak touring.
    http://www.canoeingdownunder.com.au/trips.php includes WA kayaking legend Terry Bolland’s hair-raising trips along the WA coast.

    Equipment
    Hardshell sea kayaks are more conventional and can carry a huge load but are very heavy and of course awkward to transport by air. My Gumotex inflatable and associated gear came in under an intercontinental flight’s baggage allowance and the very stable boat (made of tough raft vinyl) pumps up in ten minutes.

    Gear is best carried in sealed kayaking bags lashed to the boat. Self-bailing inflatables are probably better for rough conditions but IKs can’t sink. Any sea kayak with a rudder helps you maintain a course across side winds without overworking one arm to compensate. Once off the water all gear needs to be rinsed in fresh water and properly dried.

    Author profile
    Chris Scott writes the WA and Northern Territory chapters for the Rough Guide to Australia although he spends most of his time in the Sahara writing Sahara Overland and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook for Trailblazer Guides. He’s just updated Trailblazer’s Pennine Way guide due in 2007.

    Spending too much time with machines, a day trip on Idaho’s Salmon River turned him onto inflatable kayaks. Since then he’s paddled among the Scottish Summer Isles and Eurostar-ed down to the Dordogne and Haute Allier rivers in France. In 2008 he plans to return to WA to paddle the North West Cape. His main website is sahara-overland.com

  • World - Info

    Kayak Trails / Route Plans / Guides to specif areas

    North Coast Sea Kayak Trail - This 70 nautical mile route around Ireland's north-east corner offers varieties of rugged scenery and wildlife that are unique

    Other sites with routes / trip reports

    Sean Morley paddled round all the inhabited islands of UK in 2004 - a stunning trip, well documented here.

    CanoeNI - suggestions on where to sea paddle in N.Ireland.

    Canoe Focus have a variety of trip reports.

    Matty's Tasmanian Aventures is worth a look - nice pics, some good write-ups of trips and a couple of "techy" articles.

    Many of the bloggers have excellent pictures and write-ups of their trips - check the Other Sites page.

    NWSK's web site has some reports on Welsh trips.

    Bolton Canoe Club'sis worth a look at for trip ideas.

    Swaledale Outdoor Club has some excellent illustrated trip reports covering trips in a variety of locations.

    Tasmania - hair raising pics & videos.

    The Wild Coast contains "kayaking information for the British Columbia coast as drawn from the kayaking experiences of John Kimantas, author of The Wild Coast series of kayaking guidebooks".

    PADDLING.NET's photo trip reports - very US orientated but worth a look.

    Florida's Hidden Coast - Nick & Sandra Crowhurst's free downloadable book about the section of "Florida's Hidden Coast" between Cedar Key in the south and the Aucilla River in the north. They say it's a magical playground for the sea kayaker.

    Sweden - Kanotguuiden.com is an excellent database of trip descriptions and maps for Sweden.

    France - a crossing from Pointe de Kerdonis, Belle Ile to Plage Villes Martin, St Nazaire, some 72 Kilometers. The blogger, Colin Appleby, believes it to be the longest open crossing made in France.

    Song of the Paddle, although dedicated to Open Canoes, provides a useful reference to places to paddle.

    Alaskan "public use" cabins.

    Norway - discussion with a variety of links to useful information and planning sites.

    Fuel names in various parts of the world - useful to know that meths is called "Husholdnings sprit" in Denmark or "Kondensfjerner" in Norway.

  • World - Relevant Forum Threads

    The links below lead to discussions on our Community Forum

    British Columbia

    Brittany

    Brittany - surfing

    Brittany - Southern Brittany

    Corsica - "Girls go Round Corsica" - a video worth looking at.

    Greece (Milos) - trip planning thoughts. More here

    Greece - discussion with some nice pics of Chris Bolton's trip to the Cyclades.

    Lofoten - trip planning thoughts - map sources - many useful links

    Norway

    Norway - with pics.

    Norway - Stavanger area - with pics

    Nova Scotia - this post has several useful links for where to go and helpful resources.

    Sweden - St Anna archipelago - with pics.