Mainly kayaking photographs taken on the Isle of Man and beyond.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Kayaking Isle of Man - Tidal Race Video!

We have spring tides here in the Isle of Man at the moment. When the flow is heading west and the wind is from the west, then some interesting conditions arise. This was the case in the Sound of Man at the weekend. This is the narrow gap between the main Isle of Man and its smaller offshoots. As the tide surges through this narrow, shallow sea passage, and the force 5 to 6 winds whip up the waves from the opposite direction then you have a serious tidal race on your hands.

Jess and I set off from Port Erin down to the Sound on Sunday. We timed it so that we arrived at maximum flow. The roare and hiss of the gnarly, breaking waves could be heard some way off. The flow was so fast that the heart of the race was pushed further west than is usual. But it changed by the minute. You couldn't look away as the snake like stream of chaotic turbulence writhed to and frow beyond the entrance to the Sound. We skirted around the edges initially, easing our way in. Eventually we were in the Sound itself. I shot the video above to give you some idea. It's not easy holding a video camera whilst in a tidal race. There is usually some requirement to put in a stroke or two. Most of the clips I took were interrupted by me suddenly dropping the camera, grabbing my paddle and desperately trying to stay up right. At this point the camera sees only my spray deck, the only interest being the loud splashing and occasional whimper from myself as I narrowly avoid submerging in the icy Irish Sea. Thus, the video above is of one of the calmer moments Jess and I experienced on Sunday.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Isle of Man Kayaking - Penguins!

The internet can be a frustrating place. It can also produce marvelous results. I was contacted by "Bob" from California a few weeks ago. This 80 year old kayaker had taken up paddling at the age of 76. As you do when you are 80, Bob took part in a kayaking expedition to the Arctic last year!!! On the trip he befriended Jenny, a paddler from the Isle of Man. The email system let them down, but the internet came to the rescue. Jenny had donated her arctic kayaking gallery to . Bob "Googled" kayaking and Isle of Man and found my web site and Jenny's Gallery. (no mean feet as I've only recently put effort into search engine optimisation). Bob emailed me, I emailed Jenny and the two friends were back in touch.
Jenny is a bit of an adventurer herself and has just returned from the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica where she took the photos above. Jenny said that " it was an incredible trip - I even did the polar plunge where they clear a gap in the brash ice around the boat and you jump in!! It was so cold that it renders you speechless and all the expletives going through your mind don't find voice then a hefty crewman pulls you out!"

Monday, 18 February 2008

Isle of Man Kayaking - Calf Circumnavigation.

It was one of those days that we all say we love. Crisp, dry and sunny with barely a breath of wind. My shades saw the first sun of 2008 and I pondered applying sun screen as we prepared our gear in Port Erin. Just Ian and myself headed for the tidal races at the Calf of Man.
With time on our hands before the Sound race would awaken, we set off around the Calf. This small island at the Southern most tip of the Isle of Man is as remote as it gets around here. There are few escape points and further tidal races line it's circumference. They all seem to flow at different times relative to high and low tide. However you time your trip, you'll have to deal with one or more raging tidal races. Ian had never circumnavigated the Calf or paddled in moving water before. But on a day like this there would be no problem as we soaked up the sun and the views.
Returning to the Sound the tidal races began to flow. With a brief explanation of the fundamentals Ian piled in as only he can. I remembered my own first baptism of fire in the Calf Sound. And it was literally that as I learned to swim in the fast flowing water. Ian was no exception. A quick rescue sorted out the situation the first time. The second swim was quite different. I've not before witnessed someone so determined to role back up. On the third attempt and with shear power he rolled so effectively that he rolled straight back over on the other side. It was like watching someone spinning in a tumble dryer. Two more attempts saw him upright! Time to return home to Port Erin. This was a perfect, almost Spring time paddle. It was only spoiled by the disturbing sensation of my dry suite neck gasket smoothly splitting as I extracted myself. Time to give the "Rubber Man" a call!!!!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Isle of Man Kayaking - Swimming Alone!

Whilst paddling from Niarbyl to Port Erin and back yesterday, I heard a story. It struck a chord. A scenario I've played out in my own mind many times came into reality. It happened to someone else, but as someone who likes to paddle on his own on occasion, and who also likes to push his luck sometimes, it could have been me.
A paddler (no names) set off from Douglas Beach, Isle of Man across the harbour and continued south beneath Douglas Head. The kayaker had six months of paddling experience, could role but not every time. He was not skilled at re-entering his kayak and had no flares or VHF. He was dressed in a dry cag and paddling trousers. It is more usual than not for there to be a tidal race along much of that coastline and this day was no exception. There was a south westerly force 5 against tide. I paddled through there myself that day and it was surfable.
The lone paddler entered the race with the flow. The sea just feels a bit rough when you are with the flow of a race and his confidence built. Time for some surfing fun. Having spun around suddenly the tidal race felt a little less secure. The inevitable happened and over he went, his kayak having been pushed sideways by a following wave enhanced by wind and tide. A couple of attempts to role failed - time for a swim. Not to worry, the kayaker had a paddle float. Trouble is they're a bit tricky to use when you are still in a tidal race. Several attempts to re-enter failed and he felt that he possibly had two more attempts left in him before he was too tired and too cold to continue! Luckily, a fishing boat spotted him. He was rescued by the trawler and his kayak retrieved and towed back to Douglas. Unfortunately, during this process his paddle was lost!
I think that this chap was a extremely lucky. The Irish Sea in the Winter is a cold and unforgiving place. I did ask him if it was OK to write this post and he agreed as it is an important lesson to all of us. Don't paddle beyond your abilities, and preferably not alone. Wear a dry suite if you can and always have several means of communication with you e.g. mobile phone, flares and a VHF. This paddler did ensure that he was always in sight of fishing boats, and it was that one precaution which saved him.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Isle of Man Kayaking - Flash!

A couple of my most recent kayakblog entries have been on the negative side. I don't regret writing them. What was said needed to be said. But there is allot to be positive about too. One of the entries I am referring to concerned blogs. I guess that in some form of revenge, my antivirus software now feels that all blogs are a security risk! When I click on my own blog even, it warns me that the site may try to steal my credit card number and pin code! Once I'd recovered from the shrill screeching noise my computer emits when such things happen, I soon realized that this was a false alarm and continued to write this entry.
The internet is a strange phenomenon. It constantly changes technologically, and also in terms of fashion and trends. I dabble in web design. It's just a hobby, and I've still got allot to learn. I recently started to use a program called "Flash", not just to load slide shows but indeed to create a whole interactive web page. Instead of linking through pages on a site, with Flash you can interact with a movie, control what is written, displayed, played or what sound or music is produced. This can all be done in an extremely smooth and rather cool fashion. A very simple example of what I mean can be seen here. So why aren't all websites "Flash"? Why do we still cling to XHTML? Indeed it was predicted that all web sites by now would be Flash (autoscript) or it's cousin Javascript. This has not occurred. Firstly you need a plug-in loaded into your internet browser to view these sites and not everyone has it. You also need a fast internet link such as broadband, and not everyone has that. But, probably most important of all to web designers, at present a search engine will not be able to crawl a site made completely with Flash, and your web site will wallow in Google oblivion!! Until that changes we are stuck with flat, magazine style websites like my own.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Isle of Man Kayaking - Blogs.

Since Rene started up my portfolio of frequently read kayaking blogs has mushroomed. It used to be that I read only a select few and I confess that I didn't know of the existence of many of them. It's fascinating to read the regularly updated exploits of like minded people with kayaking in common. Topics can range from expeditions, equipment reviews to philosophical debates about life and relationships, even the cosmos. The vast majority are well written and well meaning. Non of us get paid to do this and we simply write our thoughts and experiences in the hope that others may find them interesting and useful. Unfortunately the latter point is nearly, but not quite true. Daily visitors to may have noticed the unfortunate daily recurrences of familiar blog entries from a particular blog based in my part of the world, namely the Isle of Man. The entry seems to be updated once a week, but then on an almost daily basis the entry date is changed so that it continuously appears near the top of sites such as . I guess if your kayaking business depends on your web site and blog then this may be a reasonable thing to do. It does seem to go against the spirit of most contributors, and indeed most kayakers that I know. I feel it rather spoils Rene's otherwise fantastic website.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Calf Sound Rocks (A Tale of a Tidal Race Virgin)

By Jessica Egelnick.
My first adventure in a tidal race struck me initially as one notch less frightening than the ridiculous surf at Fenella Beach last Saturday. John was right - the paddle out through the race was just rough, but all in all nothing new. My first ride back through in the other direction went smoothly; I stuck to the Kitterland side, the waves were small, and I started to get a sense of how my beloved soon-to-be battered Romany would behave. Second stint, I also opted to paddle right through and come back, rather than turning at all in the race itself. I had my first ever moment of truly surfing a sea kayak, as I caught a really great wave, planted a stern rudder and zoomed along with a grin to swallow the world. I had a vision of the surfing scenes in the This Is The Sea videos, and I knew that if I had a camera on my deck, I'd be seeing the same wide-eyed delight that Justine Curgenven expresses so well.
My third pass out through the race, I was now feeling confident and was looking to move towards the bigger side of the race, where the guys had been playing, and where I could more easily catch a big wave to get that surfing high. All went smoothly, I caught a small wave that took me into the heart of the race, and as a new wave swelled behind me I was in place and moving at a speed to catch it. It was clean and perfect, and I planted my stern rudder, leaned back, and felt the grin growing. "I'm really doing this!" passed through my mind. I leaned back further as I saw my bow driving down deeper, and as I picked up speed. Suddenly I was leaning impossibly far back, feeling as though I was actually standing on my footpegs, the wave rearing up underneath and behind me. I knew my boat was going to submerge and I thought to myself "If I can just hang on, I can pull out of it, come up, and it'll all be fine.. I can do this!", when suddenly I felt the most
surprising sensation: a thunking sound and a jarring jolt as my now-vertically plunging bow hit the bottom. "How do you hit the bottom?!?!" actually went through my head as I flipped ass over tea kettle (as my mother would say) and found myself upside down in the churning white froth. My paddle had been ripped backwards from my hands as I went over (leaving a bruise to prove I did not simply let go!), and as I waited in vain for the wave to pass, I reeled it in, indescribably thankful that I had a paddle leash. Yet the wave seemed not to pass and, as I had one hand on my deck release strap and one hand on my paddle, I figured I had probably enough air to either attempt one roll, or to work at wrenching my ridiculously tight deck off. Since I struggle with the deck at the best of times, I opted for the wet exit, thankful that I had dressed for the swim.
After some creative towing, John and Steve helped get me to a calmer section and back into my boat and I paddled off to the bay on Kitterland to sit and laugh drunkenly as I admired the three-inch chunk missing from the bow of my boat and realized I was in a functional state of shock. Never one to be beaten, I determined to get my spray deck back on (the first time I've managed it myself!) and headed back out - two tours around Kitterland and the lighthouse showed us the better tidal race had been on the other side all along. I was pleased to find that my confidence had not been shaken and that I now felt for my Romany that kind of trust you see between soldiers in war movies. The only down side to the best morning in conscious memory? I now join the ranks of those who have lost their favourite hat in the sea.

British Canoe Union!!!!!

Earlier on in January 2008, I wrote a KayakBlog entry entitled "Coach 3 Certificates". In this post I outlined the difficulty and failure myself and others had experienced in attempting to extract our sea kayak coach level 3 certificates from the British Canoe Union (BCU). I thought I would update you.
After 5 failed attempts to speak to a member of the coaching department, along with further unreturned calls, I eventually did manage to speak to someone in the BCU. I explained that I had passed my coach level 3 assessment on the Isle of Man in August 2007, but despite the BCU having been sent all relevant payments and documentation, including from my assessors, I have still not received my certificate! She was unable to locate all the documentation at this time and would get her colleague to deal with this situation. Two days ago I received a letter from the BCU. This congratulated me on my new status as a level 3 coach trainee and encouraged me to go on to take my coach 3 assessment. Once my understandable anger had died down, I made 5 further attempts to phone the BCU but the mystifying absence of human beings in that department had returned and my calls remain unanswered.
Now I don't plan to let this drop. I do plan to leave the BCU. The British Canoe Union's correspondence contains the heart warming words "Helping and inspiring people to go canoeing"! How can an organisation which treats its' paying members like this claim to inspire people?

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Isle of Man Kayaking - Calf Tidal Races.

There was a narrow weather window to surf the Calf Sound on the Isle of Man today and we took it. With a hazardous drive across sheet ice nearly putting pay to kayaking, Steve, Jess and myself eventually arrived at an uninviting set of tidal races. The tides weren't strong, but a brisk force 6 wind whipped up some breakers and although gnarly, we played the swell and surf. One time I looked around to see the familiar sight of a white Romany hull riding upside down over a large breaking wave and rocks, with it's occupant hidden by the ferocious turmoil beneath. I guess this is why we wear helmets although in fact we weren't. Jess was fine after a rather bungled rescue attempt by myself, Steve saving the day. Later it was Steve's turn as we shared a wave and a triumphant paddle swirl resulted in the shockingly rapid inversion of his red plastic boat. A simple role resolved the situation. With a building wind we headed back for hot tea, coffee and scones in the Calf Cafe. Paddle Buddy can compete with other Manx kayaking clubs when it comes to cuisine you know!