Surfing small waves

June 27, 2007

I think I finally got it today – how to surf properly.

I got to the put-in at 4.30pm (leaving work an hour early) and had two hours on my own before the first surfers turned up. The surf was small 1-2 feet, but I realised perfect for my level. I surfed a small break over a sand spit about 150m out which allowed about 100m runs before the wave petered out. This was part of the reason for ‘getting it’ I think as at the end of every wave I wasn’t beached! It was great fun.

The key I think is to paddle like billyo to get on the wave and stay in front of the pile so you don’t broach. Once you are up to speed it’s an amazing feeling and I was able to look around for the first time, skiming along the green part of the wave with the pile behind and in control.

Well mostly in control. I got trashed three times and failed to roll – partly because of the surf but mostly I think my paddle which is now loose and spinning around in my hands. Need to get some loctite anerobic glue (used for thread locking should work on my steel shaft) although as I looked around for it I found the sumo stuff – maybe that’s the one for me!

sumo glue

As I was paddling around getting on waves, punching through etc I was thinking what an idiot to be surfing with this broken paddle but it was also good practice in a way – being so aware of paddle blade position.

When the surfers turned up it was instructive watching how they did it and I realised that surfing is much cooler and more interesting than surf kayaking. These guys are just so self sufficient – no masses of saftey equipment for them – just a board and shortie wetsuit…

The water was amazingly warm in the wet suit (though chilly without) and the weather was weird – 20km inland it was sunny and hot (26C) but getting the train home suddenly it got cold and foggy (unusual for here) with about 15kmph winds.

I finished up at 7:30 as the light was starting to fade. Tired and happy.

Again no pictures.


Marcus Demuth around Ireland

June 27, 2007

Marcus Demuth is paddling around Ireland he is currently stuck on an island called Inisheer after a number of hard days into gale force winds. The posts are interesting but I want to see the pictures!

 June 22nd

Smerwick to Magharee Island, 22 Miles 

Again strong headwinds. Got up at 4.00 AM to get the morning flood out of the natural harbor of Smerwick, but winds and wave were too large to get me out. It was blowing Force 6 right into the harbor, with 6-7 feet breaking waves in my face. I turned around, and had the second close shark encounter in the bay. I was able to make more pics of the shark. Thomas saw the shark as well, and estimated it 2-tons, and at about 20 feet. The winds calmed a little down in the evening, but still headwinds, but I left and paddled close to dusk, reaching Magharee Island. Magharee Island was nice, but a tough landing on cliffs, and I had to carry the kayak a 100 feet up steep cliffs in order to get it away from the swell and tides … not so swell!  Now 478 Miles away from Dublin.

List of kayaking accidents

June 26, 2007

A slightly morbid but instructive list of kayaking accidents this year, some of them fatal, throughout the world.


May 8, 2007 – An Atlanta man died off the coast of South Carolina when his and his friend’s kayaks were swept away, news reports stated. The pair were out kayak fishing off Seabrook Island near Charleston when sub-tropical depression Andrea moved in. They were caught in 50 kmh winds and strong currents that swept them out to sea. The friend was rescued suffering from hypothermia 18 hours and 25 miles away. Stephen Lee, 27, died.

Assessment: Here is a classic case of not paying attention to weather forecasts. Even if a sub-tropical depression had not been anticipated in weather forecasts – hard to believe – a VHF radio and monitoring the marine weather channels would have prevented this tragedy. Paying attention to the weather is the simplest way to avoid danger.

Not all the “assessments” are as clear as this and the author makes some statements that are questionable at best. But still worth a read.

Also of interest:

This link is to a story by the friend and paddling partner of a kayaker that drowned in Maine, USA in May 2007.


June 26, 2007

Had this picture been of anything else I would be happy with it but as it is a portrait I’m slightly embarassed to post it. Still what can you do – a partial reflection in the car.


and from the same set of analog pictures, this one; 4km out to sea looking back towards land from my June 2nd trip.

4km out to sea

Flat but choppy and warm

June 24, 2007

I still don’t have a new waterproof camera so no pictures sadly.

The sea was flat with less than a foot of swell but with some wind blown chop and pretty warm. I spent 4 hours paddling around, fooling around in the water. I brought my carbon fibre racing paddle to practice with – felt funny but I got how it works.

I was also keeping a look out for a spot to practice the method of landing on a rocky cliffy shore that Marcus Demuth wrote about:

“Nigel taught us ‘landings in hostile environments’, which was by far my favorite new thing I learned. To land on a rock, or in a cliff-like coast, the kayaker clips himself to his own kayak with his tow rope, then slips out of the kayak and swims to, and finally climbs on, the rock with his paddle in his hand. He then places his paddle and himself above the high water line and crashing waves, and pulls his kayak up to himself on the rock with the tow line. I could not have been more impressed by this technique, and was eager to try it when it came to my turn. To launch, you let the kayak slide back into the water, sending it off with a good push, then, Yours Truly jumps off the rock into the Irish (or any other) Sea, gets back into the kayak with a re-entry roll, and then clip yourself off your boat.”

And also a place to do a seal launch from.

seal launch photos from jackson kayak

I found a perfect seal launch spot that could double as the landing spot. The only problem is that it is pretty high – 4m off the water (no where near as high as the above pictures though!) – which makes hauling the kayak up pretty hard work and also will take some bottle to do my first seal launch from…

Just 6 weekends left in Japan before we go back to Scotland for good so I may well run out of time.

I spent a lot of time in the water today pratcising various things. I started off rolling pretty well but my blade was sinking too deep so I tried to make some corrections. Sod’s law I then failed to roll. I tried a rentry and roll and failed at that too. I then tried a cowboy rentry but the kayak was too full of water and too unstable. I swam the kayak into shore – noting how easy it is for the kayak to get out of reach and how fast it moves away from you when you’re swimming – bailed and paddled back out. I then failed again twice more at rolling to my great surprise and frustration. I thought I had that roll nailed down and was really supposed to be practicing my offside roll. Anyway I took the opportunity to practice the paddle float rentry and various methods of sliding ito the kayak. I think my failure might have been related to the broken paddle as at one point I felt the blade twist and then slice through the water.

It is good to get this kind of shock though makes you realise that its probably complacency that kills most kaykers.

The difference between Scotland and Japan

June 19, 2007

I’m just back from a week in Scotland interviewing for a few jobs. The difference between Scotland and Japan came across very strongly:

today in Matsushima

today in Edinburgh

Above Japan below Edinburgh (and the temperature has risen from the 9.5degrees I saw). I am now unhappy about going back. To make matters worse since I left the sea temperature has risen to 20! That’s at least five (but more like eight) degrees above Scotland’s max sea temperature.

Campsite Kinkasan and Ajishima

June 7, 2007

This is by request.

There is a campsite opposite Kinkasan which is run by the town of Ayukawa. It is very cheap, super clean, beautiful (on a steep hillside with views across to Kinkasan) and quiet. Howevere due to its location its best to drive there – a good 30 minute walk or 10minute taxi drive from Ayukawa.

Map of the location

There is also a campsite on Ajishima. I will try to post more when I know.

Camping is not allowed on Kinkasan due to the deer.

For kayakers its also possible to camp on some beaches but care is required as the exposed coast makes some of the beaches dangerous. After a night you could find the conditions changed and much more serious surf and sea conditions to deal with.

The Arctic Ocean

June 7, 2007

From Explorers Web

Arctic image

The Arctic is one of the world’s seven seas. Its top is frozen and the floating ice is around 16 million sq. km, (greater [in size] than the US), shrinking in summer to 9 million sq. km. As the ice shrinks, open water leads expose the black water… The leads are not deep, but the ocean in them is. If you fall into a lead, up to 4000 meters of dark, cold water will suck you down.

The main obstacles to an Arctic crossing expedition are moving ice floes, negative ocean drift, pressure ridges and open water leads. Two major circulation patterns for Arctic sea ice are present: the Transpolar Drift and the Beaufort Gyre. The Transpolar drift carries ice westward from the Russian Arctic, the Beaufort Gyre is located north of the Alaskan and Canadian coast, and it rotates in a clockwise motion, exiting in the Farm Strait. At some points this ice migration will carry the expedition backwards and away from the pole.

On certain occasions; storms, in the late spring and during a full moon – the Arctic ice brakes [sic] up with peculiar sounds building up to terrifying alarm. Thin sea ice moves up and down with wave action as you walk on it. “Full moon inferno,” is an event caused by the tidal changes brought on by the full moon. As the ocean rises, the ice breaks up and the ice floes collide with a tremendous force.

The Transpolar Drift and the Beaufort Gyre sound like a lyrical Scottish poem and a good cheese respectively. Cool names. You can read more about these currents and about some disks thrown out onto the Beaufort Sea that crossed the Pole to land on a Scottish beach 10 years later here.

Steve Rogers

June 6, 2007

Captain America

The name shared with Captain America seems to inspire it’s owner to be a photographer.

Steve Rogers in the UK
Steve Rogers nudes

Steve Rogers taking amazing kayak images with Pacific Horizons

Pacific Horizons is a blog about a filmaker making a sea kayak video in the pacific Northwest (I take that to mean the US and Canada). The pictures are amazing. The prose short and sootably North American:”Kuthe was absolutely ripping it up at Skooks…here he is getting his carve on”.

The place is Skookumchuck tidal rapids in British Columbia. Image gallery here but the sea kayak images at Pacific Horizons are even better.

Crossing the ditch

June 5, 2007

The two Australians planning the cross the ditch from Australia to New Zealand are going in this kayak. For some reason I had thought they were going in a normal kayak but I guess that would be impossible for two people, even in a double.  They had planned to leave in January 2007 but for technical reasons missed their weather window and are instead planning to do the trip later this year, presumably November / December.


Another broken paddle

June 4, 2007

MontBell have sold me another duff paddle. I’m really pissed off. Here is what happened:


The plastic joint which clamps the two-piece paddle shaft together has sheared off, I think it happened while I was surfing or maybe rolling. Obviously a design fault – the material is not up to the kind of stresses placed on it. The paddle still has about 250mm of interconnecting sleave and this junction point only fixes the amount of feather but I now have a paddle where the feather can move fairly freely around in your hands.

I have two choices, take it back or glue it together at a fixed feather.

I will do the later because MontBell, in common with Japanese retailers, are horrible about stuff like this and I don’t want them to say “just this once” like they did last time. In the UK there would be no questions asked: a full refund or at the very least a new paddle. Here, well I will be give accustaory looks – like I’m upsetting the wa.

That’s two paddles I’ve bought from them and both have broken. So my review of MontBell is bad and poor.

the other broken paddle story

There is never just one reason

June 2, 2007

I failed today. I was aiming to reach the confluence point 38N 141E that I blogged about in March (I even upped my plan to the confluence project site).


This was my put-in at shibatahama with the ubiquious cars parked on the beach: all surfers.

The confluence is about 9km out into the Pacific, I got about half way out and decided to turn back. Of course there is never just one reason for failure:

1. The gps I had borrowed for the occasion:


(This is it showing the required WGS 84 protocol that is a requirement of the confluence project). The menu is in Japanese and I couldn’t get it to display location in Lat/Long without setting a “way-finding” flag, a double button push that would show that point “fixed” i.e. would not change as I moved so led to me pushing and cancelling each time to find my location. I was concerned that after another hour of paddling I wouldn’t be able to get the close enough (within 100m) to the point with “all zeros”.

2. I couldn’t remember how far a minute was in km (1.852 km). In fact my whole lat/long navigation was poorly considered and researched.

3. The waterproofing for the gps consisted of a clear zip-loc bag inside a waterproof map case. This combination was leading to fogging that made the reading difficult to see and caused problems both in following a heading and in reading the lat/long location safely. I was worried that as the seas were picking up I wouldn’t be able to find the confluence safely.

4. I was late to the put-in and so missed the ideal tide configuration (though tide wasn’t huge so not that significant).

5. However the wind was. Because I was late I was having to paddle into more wind, forecast at 5knots in the morning rising to 15 knots in the afternoon from the SE: ideal for blowing me home but not great on the way out.

6. I promised my wife I’d only do it ideal conditions and this wasn’t ideal. It was a nice sunny day and the waves weren’t huge but the wind was creating some chop, white horses and the occasional breaking wave.

7. My paddle was broken (not fatally but not ideally either) and I didn’t have a back up. More about that later.

8. I got pretty wet breaking through some biggish surf on the way out and wasn’t super confident getting back in safely.

rip tide through surf

None of these reasons was enough to make me stop on their own, but added together I did stop, turn around and head back in. I paddled for an hour solid on the way out, which by my reckoning was 5km out, and only about 25 minutes with the wind at my back and surfing the waves on the way home.

It was an interesting experience for me: setting out alone with nothing in front but the ocean as far as the eye can see. I spent most of my time second guessing my decision making: is this the right thing to do, is this safe, what happens if…

There is something about the wide open sea that is disconcerting, I don’t know if it’s just me, perhaps so, and that has been my fascination and with people who go off into it alone. I have all the more respect for what Andrew McAuley set out to do.

I’m sure my failure was also partly to do with my kayak, had I been able to paddle faster in a more ocean worthy kayak I might have gotten there before I had time to get nervous…

When I got back all the surfers who had been on the beach had gone. From the sea the surf looked really big and, hitting at an angle, the waves were zipping dramtically along the tetrapod sea defences. I got a bit nervous that there was some reason why all the surfers had gone – the tide had changed at 11:30am did that mean dumping waves now?

Anyway I was quite please with my entry in that I stayed dry! I came in along the edge of a riptide that I had taken out. The rip was keeping the surf small and manageable. At one point have broached on a wave I found myself turned around and heading out into the surf in the rip – it was very strong. Fortunately another wave came through which I back paddled onto and surfed in bum first. Happily no one there to see.

rip tide 2

This rip (above – between the surf and the tetra pods) was pretty strong and so I decided not to empty the kayak and fool around in the surf.

a proper tube

The surf looked great though – even some proper looking tubes.

I took some pictures with my film camera which, if they are any good, I will post later (*here*). I’ve not decided whether to try for this confluence again: it wasn’t great fun, it was a four hour round trip drive and I’ve only got 10 weeks left in Japan… However I would also be sad to leave it un-done.

*EDIT* What I should have read in advance, a good account by Douglas Wilcox of GPS use and explanation of the “GOTO” function that I assumed would be part of my borrowed unit but wasn’t. L I N K

Nigel Foster and a polar bear

May 31, 2007

Nigel Foster wrote this description of his encounter with a polar bear. One of those heart pounding reads. Full story and more here.

Ten days into our trip, we paddled into sheltered water amongst a group of rocky islets. I was looking for a place to pee. Hidden from the choppy water was a narrow dead-end of a channel, scarcely wider than my kayak; the perfect dock! I drifted to the end and climbed out onto the sloping rock. Kristin had come in behind me but content to stay in her kayak, suggested I left my kayak floating where it was. I climbed higher up the undulating rock and stretched. The last ice-age had covered this whole region in an ice sheet that had ground the rock smooth. Now as I looked down I could see the bands and striations patterning the rock in pink, green-grey and black, polished like the growth rings in a slice of tree.

My eyes casually traced the sinuous folds of a single threadlike band of dark rock as it meandered between clusters of bright crystals that sparkled in the sunlight. Suddenly I spotted a movement, a patch of ivory-white fur had appeared above the rock about 60 feet away. In moments the polar bear was in full view, head held low, striding purposefully toward me. In long easy strides it approached quickly, its fur swinging heavily around its long legs and huge body.

I grabbed my pfd and sprayskirt and turned away. Anxious not to provoke a charge, I walked steadily toward my kayak, calling out “Kristin! Back off into deep water! Now!” “Now!” She looked over her stern to see me approaching with the bear only yards behind me. As she attempted to reverse from the slot, I reached my own kayak and slid into the cockpit.

The water level was falling. Mid-tide it would fall 2 inches every minute in this area of huge tidal exchange. Kristin’s kayak was already aground. Again I urged her to get away. She pushed hard against the rock with both hands but her kayak was too heavily laden for her to push over the obstacle. “Nigel! I’m stuck! Should I get out?” I got out of my kayak and popped open my day-hatch to grab my flare gun.

The bear stopped when it reached the stern of Kristin’s kayak. Its huge head extended toward her. It was close enough to reach her with its forepaw, so it was unlikely she would be able to escape to open water. I tried to control my fear and focus on loading the flare gun. Fumbling, I broke open the barrel and inserted a red cartridge.

I snapped the barrel shut and cocked the firing pin. I aimed vaguely to one side of the huge animal, hoping to shoot close enough to startle it but anxious not to hit it. A flare gun is not meant to be an accurate firearm, and I was worried that if I hit the bear it might provoke an attack. I squeezed the trigger. “Poof!” The flare rushed past the bear and bounced off the rock. IN the brightness of day the ball of incandescence seemed as insignificant as the muffled report of the gun. Yet it was enough to surprise the bear. It bounded a few yards from us up the rock.

Kristin climbed out of her kayak. By the time I’d broken open the flare gun and pulled out the spent cartridge case, the bear was back, standing next to us. I loaded another flare. Kristin tried to slide her kayak, but stopped when the bear craned its neck to sniff at the dry-bag strapped to her rear deck. The deck bag contained vacuum-packed freeze-dried food. Even if the bags were airtight, I knew we had probably transferred all kinds of scents to it from out hands.

Polar bears are known to have the keenest sense of smell of any mammal and have been known to pick up the scent of a seal from a distance of more than five miles and to track it down. Kristin stood by her front hatch. I aimed at the rock beside the bear and set off the second flare. The huge white head turned and it sniffed the rock where the flare had hit, before turning its attention onto Kristin. This time the flare had done little to distract the bear.

Kristin stood beside her kayak and looked up at the bear. “Bear! Bear! Be Gone!” she commanded loudly and firmly. It struck me as an odd thing to say, almost funny. “Go away!” might have made more sense, but here was this slender woman looking up at a creature the size of a car, speaking in what sounded like Old English. “Bear-Be-Gone!” she demanded again, enunciating each word slowly and deliberately as if she were trying to sell a new brand of pest repellent or stain remover. Her choice of words seemed absurd, but I was relieved that she was calmly facing up to this bear instead of screaming or running away, either of which could encourage an attack.The bear stood facing her just feet away, its mouth hanging slightly open. Its head was as broad as Kristin’s shoulders. I was ready to fire my next flare. I had decided to shoot straight at the bear if it attacked, but I wasn’t sure if a direct hit would deter the bear or enrage it. The bear shuffled on its four huge paws. I fired again, just off to the side. The whoosh of the red fireball flying close past the bear didn’t get so much as a sideways glance. The bear continued to study Kristin. A polar bear can pounce 20 feet from standing, and this one was less than 10 feet from us. “Bear be Gone!” Kristin insisted. The bear looked at me, looked back at her, then half turned, shuffled its huge paws and wandered a few paces up the rock away from us.Kristin instantly dragged her kayak backward until it was afloat and with a single fluid movement was in the cockpit and backing toward open water. The bear turned. I hauled my kayak across the rocks to the water as the bear began hurrying toward me. I tumbled in the cockpit, my pfd and spray skirt on my lap, and started to push back. In a few steps the bear reached the waters edge, extended its head forward and fixed its stare on me, but Kristin and I were already a few yards from shore, paddling vigorously away.Free from the narrow confines of the narrow slot where we had landed, we were now had to exit the channel between the islets to reach the open water beyond. I paddled close to Kristin. The bear ambled over the rock, matching our pace with ease. Even steep cliff-like rock faces didn’t slow it down. It was elegeant and graceful and seemed to gather momentum like a ball rolling down a hill.

When we paddled clear of the island and reached open water, the bear paused and stood watching us. It walked a few more yards, lifted its head to sniff the air, then walked headfirst into the water and submerged. The white shape of the bears head appeared, pushing across the surface toward us then vanished again. Polar bears can stay under water for as long as two minutes and swim at a steady six knots, so if this bear wanted to catch up with us, it was certainly capable of doing so. We hurried away and didn’t relax out paddling pace for a couple of hours.


In their 2004 expedition they had 16 encounters with polar bears!

EDIT: In case you ever plan to meet a polar bear (I don’t) you might like to read up on what to do here. In summary, bear spray, rubber bullets then a big gun. Some good tips on keep all of these options working in -40C.

The canoe boys

May 30, 2007

canoe boys 2007 edition

Simon Willis quotes Alastair Dunnett from the new edition of the Canoe Boys (about paddling up the west coast of Scotland in 1934) writing about his job as a bank clerk:

“Tomorrow my feet will walk a city’s pavements. Tomorrow I shall know again the full horror of respectability. Tomorrow, pilloried in collars, surmounted by unyeilding headgear, I shall prepare to shoulder again my infinitesimal burden of responsibility in the financial transactions of a wearied world.”

Willis is paddling with Cailean Macleod sections of the journey originally made by Alastair Dunnett and Seumas Adam. He is making programs for Radio Scotland and blogging about it here. He says (not sure if its a quote) “Alastair Dunnett described a wall of water, darting at and striking them; hands in the water trying the seize and wrestle the paddles from their grasp; a moving group of whirlpools with a noise like hissing thunder; the sea gathering below their canvas and slatted hulls like a horse bunching for the gallop.”

So all in sounds like a great read.

book review on sea paddler dot net of the 1995 edition the Canoe Boys

amazon for the 2007 edition 

Laurie Ford on Andrew McAuley

May 29, 2007

Laurie Ford in Tasmania in this post about Andrew McAuley said

“What went wrong? This is the best guess made by the people on the spot – but is conjecture, as told to me by Paul [Hewiston the kayaker builder].

He was getting tired (he went through emotional highs and lows – this from the video), but was finally in good weather, and in sight of land (the peaks of the mountains anyway). A small front came through that he possibly didn’t bother putting his dry suit on for, maybe because it was a very hot day. He was probably exuberant at being close to land and may have paddled more than he was fit to do, and was extra tired. The cold front capsized him and put him in the water. He could not get back in. He got in under the kayak and unscrewed the rear hatch to get his drysuit out, and the VHF radio. If he was tethered he would have to untether to get into the dry suit. Somehow he got separated from the kayak and it blew away from him faster than he could swim – especially in a dry suit, or half in one.

The rest you know.

I repeat, the above is conjecture from the people on the spot – but a reasonable explanation that would cover all the facts.

Why didn’t he go for the EPIRB. I know Andrew thinks the same as I do on this subject. It is a last resort. It is far better (if possible) to make contact by phone or radio and let people know the exact situation – rather than the huge panic and search that an EPIRB generates. Having said that, I’m quite sure that he would have intended to set it off (as I would) once he was in the dry suit. It was the separation from the kayak that brought him undone.

What lessons can be learnt from this tragedy? First of all, it is possible to paddle a kayak from Tasmania to New Zealand. Never forget that. Andrew planned this expedition in meticulous detail, and he was right – it can be done.

Had he had a small strobe light in an inside pocket of his paddling jacket he may well have attracted the attention of the two helicopters that went out searching on the friday night. And in hindsight the EPIRB should always be attached to the person, not the kayak.”