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

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Christmas in Gibraltar.

The exodus started a few days before Christmas. Firstly, the personnel I'm in Gibraltar to provide anaesthetic cover for, began returning home to the UK for the Christmas holiday. This left me with no work to do. Then, the gated accommodation in which I am resident gradually became moth balled. The catering staff disappeared over a week ago, then the cleaners and finally all the other inmates vanished. A large complex which seems capable of holding over 100 with function rooms and dining halls, even a gymnasium now only seems to house me. I went for days over Christmas without seeing a sole, apart from the security guys on the gate. Occasionally I would hear footsteps and a squeaking noise from elsewhere in the large building, but I never actually saw anyone. Perhaps it was mice, I really don't know. I'm just so grateful they didn't turn the WiFi off before they abandoned me. Thank you BBC for the iPlayer. I wasn't completely alone however. On Boxing day may room was invaded by ants who polished off the remainder of a box of Thornton's Chocolates for me. Clearly, feeling as abandoned as I did they swarmed into my room in search of some Christmas goodies. It was a nightmare trying to keep them out of my laptop, which they pursued around the room as it sought higher and higher points of safety. Still now that Morrisons is open again I've just exterminated them all with a can of insecticide.
Just a snippet of what Christmas in Gibraltar is like!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Gibraltar.

I've never practiced medicine outside of the British Isles before. All my previous medical jobs have been for the National Health Service. And so, as I find myself working as a Consultant Anaesthetist in Gibraltar for the next few weeks, my environment must seem unfamiliar! Certainly some aspects do, and in particular the warm sunshine makes a welcome change from the freezing weather being endured back on the Isle of Man. Yet in other ways Gibraltar is very familiar. Being here reminds me of my initial days when I moved to the Isle of Man some five years ago. It's all very strange and yet familiarly British at the same time.
Gibraltar is a British territory with it's own government. Just like the Isle of Man it uses £'s as it's currency and English notes are readily accepted. It is not an island but it feels very much like one, especially to me as I'm not allowed to drive across the airport runway into Spain as I am on call the whole time. Just like home, it is very easy to identify who is from the territory and who is not. Historically, smuggling has been rife just like on the Isle of Man, exploiting it's low taxation regimen. Yes, in many ways this is a home from home.
In other ways it is Gibraltar is very different. It measures 2.6 square miles into which are packed over 25,000 people. The rock dominates, leaving very little flat land and most of that has been reclaimed from the sea. Tiny zig zag tracks lead to the summit which is studded with war time relics, telecommunications devices, gun batteries and of course the famous apes roaming free. This was a fortress and past and present military buildings dominate. But with the reduction of Gibraltar's strategic importance new civilian office buildings dwarf the old ramparts and fortifications. Gibraltar now strives to become a low tax financial centre, just like the Isle of Man.
Paddling is not an option for me on this trip due to work commitments. I should imagine it would be a fascinating place to explore by kayak. Just beware of the hundreds of ships passing through these waters as they enter the Port of Gibraltar and the Port of Cadiz in nearby Spain.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Isle of Man.

I've been away a lot recently. I've paddled on salt and fresh water lochs in and around Fort William, and in the open sea out of Portree on the Isle of Skye (lower 2 photos). These paddles have been great and I would certainly return to Scotland to paddle some more. But now I'm back home in the Isle of Man and I can really appreciate what we have here for sea kayakers. As I paddled alone out of Port Erin and headed north towards Fleshwick Bay, I pondered the stunning scenery, the energy left in the sea after our recent storms and the shear variety of locations and conditions to be enjoyed by the sea kayaker here. Of course, it's not all perfect and certainly the dead pigeon which bounced off my head and onto my spray deck as I emerged on my second role was most unwelcome! But despite that it is so good to be home.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Himalayan Whitewater Championships

This blog entry was written by Christina Dawkins of GRG Adventure Kayaking.

On the 27th-29th November a small village along the Trisuli River was overrun with professional kayakers for the 9th Himalayan Whitewater Championships (or the ‘Rodeo’ as it is locally known). With over 60 Nepali and International competitors, this competition was far from easy and they had to fight hard for a place at the top. Compared with 1992 when there were just 7 competitors, this event has grown and grown. Sponsored by NARA (National Association of Rafting Agents) and Paddle Nepal, these guys made sure the event ran smoothly.

The Rodeo is a great event to give Nepali kayakers who would not normally get the chance to compete at an international standard and show the world what they can really do. This year the world was certainly watching as we saw competitors from America, Canada, South Africa, Japan and even Russia!

The event combines a Slalom, Freestyle and a Down River Race. The Slalom comprised of 15 gates on the ‘Surprise Rapid’, 3 or 4 of which were upstream, making the kayakers cross the main flow of the river, really testing their skills. Next was the freestyle which gave people the chance to show off their playboating skills. Many opted for smaller playboats, but as competitors were only allowed one boat for the whole event it was a difficult choice to make. Points were awarded for loops, cartwheels and other stunts. After two or three heats, it whittled down the competitors to the main players and Santa Maila Gurung, coming third was the only kayaker left in a creek boat, with Santosh Gurung and Anup Gurung who took second and first, were both using playboats. On the final day was the down river race. This was made harder this year as the course was extended to 17 km, a lot of which was flat water. The ‘Le Mans’ start sorted the men out from the boys and many different tactics were used, some even ditched the idea of a sorting out their spray deck as they thought they would lose too much time. After a few kilometres gaps were appearing and the leaders pulled away from the pack. Once the team hit the "Upset Rapid", the largest rapid on the Trisuli, creek boats did much better than the smaller boats and many of the kayakers flipped. It was a close end, with Sean Bozkewycz coming in first. Although most the excitement was for the third position which saw two competitors sprint bare foot across the rocks, dragging their boats behind them to be first to cross the line. Photo finish!

The Rodeo isn’t just about kayaking. It’s a great way to spend a weekend and the parties in the evening sort out who the real kayakers are. This year we had a Hungarian DJ providing us with great tunes to dance the night away Nepali style!

On the final day, awards and prizes were given out to the winners of each event and an overall Champion. Kayak equipment was given to the locals and internationals won tour and adventure packages such as Bungee Jumps and Safari trips. Santa Maila Gurung of GRG’s Adventure Kayaking retained his title of Whitewater Champion for his third year taking home a brand new Jackson Riot to add to his collection. Many of the kayakers made beating Maila their goal this year and came to the river weeks in advance to practice their skills. Unfortunately for them he wiped the board, being the only competitor to come top three in all events and taking the overall win. He was closely followed by brothers Nim Bahadur Magar and Santosh Magar who also got to take home some fine equipment donated by Peak UK.

This year saw another big push for the Nepali Women’s team. Guided by Inka Trollas the girl’s team have got bigger and better. Susmita, who this year has had the opportunity to compete internationally, took the first place for the girls winning her second kayak in two years. Her younger sister, Goma, also did well this year and we hope for more and more girls to get involved in the coming years.

Another great Rodeo, enjoyed by hundreds of people from around the globe. Keep an eye out for next years event. We’re hoping to make it an even better event next yer. Perhaps this could be the start to get Nepali kayakers on the road to the Olympics or more international competitions.

If you would any more information on the Himalayan Whitewater Championship, please feel free to contact

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Fort William.

I've been working up in Fort William, Scotland, for a couple of weeks. In fact I've been working a lot, but I have found time on a couple of occasions to paddle. The first trip was in the sea loch at Fort William as shown in the top photograph with Ben Nevis in the background. The second paddle was on a fresh water lake extending into the mountains, perpendicular to the Great Glen.
Paddling a sea kayak in fresh water is a new experience for me. I felt a little bit like Ray Mears setting off in a canoe in some remote part of the Canadian wilderness. Certainly as I paddled deeper into the mountains and the rough tracks disappeared, I did appreciate that the only way to reach this spot was by foot or by kayak. The water was flat and uninteresting, but the solitude and silence compensated for the calm conditions and I soon began to appreciate that I was the only person for miles around.
I liked the isolation. I liked the fact that I would emerge for once not salty, and that as I paddled my gear was washing itself after Monday's salt water trip. I didn't like rolling in the peat stained water which, as I stared upwards to place my paddle for the role upright, was like gazing out of a freezing cold cup of tea! I didn't like the shock I felt as two loud explosions emanated from a fish farm as I paddled to close. These were presumably bird scarers but they nearly tested the integrity of my dry suite in reverse. I guess I'm not completely sold on paddling on lakes, but I'll give it another go on Monday. Meanwhile, if I can find a few waves and a bit of tide I may change my plans.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Lost.

Last Sunday Jess, Ian and myself took part in one of those paddles we will always remember. We circumnavigated the Calf of Man from Port Erin, as we have done on many previous occasions. As we rounded the Stack to the southerly side of the Calf we were hit by a SW force 5 wind directly opposing the tide. The gnarly conditions resulting are shown in the photos above. What isn't shown above is the final tidal race at the "drinking dragon" through which we had to paddle to complete the circumnavigation. Ian went first and only just made it through against the fast flow. Having watched Ian, Jess and I thought better of it and opted to paddle through the slightly slower flowing but massive tidal race along side the smaller race. We estimated the wave size to be 30 to 40 foot, the flow was against us and we had to surf our way through. Very quickly we were engulfed by two extra large waves and once I'd gathered myself and spun around, there was no longer any sign of Jess. In fact she had surfed the first wave, and was capsized by the second, but managed to role back up. I circled around in the race looking for her but as we occupied separate valleys between the mountainous surf, I just couldn't find her. We both thought the other was lost for a short while, until on the peak of another monster, I just caught sight of her and I continued on through the race. Whilst all this drama was taking place Ian thought we were both "playing" the surf and re-entered the race so as to not miss out on the fun!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - 7!

We had force 8 gales here on the Isle of Man this weekend. On Sunday Ian and myself headed for Port Erin to make the most of the strong Westerly winds. It was one of those days when, in a sea kayak at least, you must keep the bow of the boat straight into the wind. Any small deviation to one side or the other would result in the weather, rather than us, determining our course. Because of this we tended to stick to the bay. Paddling up towards Fleshwick or down to the Sound could have resulted in us being blown onto the base of the steep cliffs. But this way the worst that could happen is that we would be forced back onto the Beach.
We encountered some of the biggest waves I've ever paddled in once out of the Bay, especially those thrown up by the underwater reef on the left side of the entrance. I wished I could have got some better photos, but out there it was impossible to take your hands of the paddle for long enough to use a camera.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - 24 hours.

What a difference 24 hours can make. The photo above is of a flat calm, windless blue desert with Jess just visible in the distance. It was a desert as Ian, Jess and myself failed to catch a single fish over several hours on Saturday.

But 24 hours later the deep blue was replaced by the battleship grey of a typical gusty Autumn Irish Sea day. Force 5 SW winds across spring tides at the Sound produced challenging conditions. Ian was forced to role a record breaking 11 times! I rolled once and Jess remained unscathed. All 3 of us were in Rockpool boats. Jess normally paddles a different model of boat but for various reasons, she borrowed my Rockpool Alaw Bach putting me in my 3 piece Alaw Bach. I think it would be fair to say that in her usual boat she sometimes struggles to catch the waves in the race but in the Rockpool she was transformed. I don't think this is all that surprising as the Alaw and Alaw Bach were designed and built by Rockpool for Rough water conditions, but even I was amazed by just how much difference a change of boat seemed to make.
The middle 4 photos were taken by Jessica Egelnick as most of my own attempts failed to turn out on this day.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Kayak Fishing.

There's no doubt that for me sea kayaking is about rough water, fast moving tides and strong winds. This is what we experienced as we headed out from Niarbyl on the west side of the Isle of Man on Sunday. As force 5 to 6 north westerly winds battered the Niarbyl rock formations, we headed directly outwards on course for Ireland. This must have looked a bit odd, and perhaps even reckless, to those on the shore near the Niarbyl Cafe. We just wanted the waves on the nose so that we would have an exhilarating surf back to shore.
The trouble for us is that on occasion, even on the Isle of Man, we get flat calm days. We've probably cancelled more trips because it was too calm rather than too stormy! Monday was one such day but we now have a solution. Ian and Jess have been kayak fishing for a while using crabbing hand lines with feathers and a weight attached. I wasn't persuaded but Ian bought a line for me and so in the still calm weather Monday bought, we headed out for Chicken Rock Lighthouse. We were quickly rewarded by the sighting of a pod of dolphins in one of the almost permanent tidal flows which sweep around the rock. It didn't take long for us to begin hauling out pollock from the same spot. I am now a convert to the sport of kayak fishing, and I need never dread again those flat calm days.
(Top photo by Ian Smith)

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Iceland Panoramas.

We spent last week in Iceland. It's a new country both politically and geologically. Iceland only became independent from Denmark in the 1940's, and the island is studded with volcanoes, many of which are still busy spewing out new bits of Iceland. All this volcanic activity is reflected in the landscape. Steam rises from the ground, there are craters and numerous obviously volcanic peaks. Vast lava flows scar the countryside, interrupted by tall lava spouts, and much of the island resembles the surface of the moon. But other areas of the island are much older, with tall peaks and fjords reminiscent of Norway. The original Icelandic settlers from about 1000 years ago originated in Norway, and a version of ancient Norse is still spoken.
Iceland is quirky and Reykjavik's trendy bars, pubs, restaurants and shops rival those of much larger capitals. The people are stylish and Icelandic design and architecture is on display everywhere. Over half of the county's 300.000 population live in the capital, Reykjavik. This, along with the variable geography, extraordinarily extreme weather and vast open roads gives the impression of a much larger country. Much of Iceland is empty. To be honest much of Iceland is uninhabitable and 15% of it is under permanent ice cap. The vast central areas are virtually unreachable, and it is illegal to drive in much of the central desert without a special off road driving license.
I enjoyed Iceland and I would go again. One week is not long enough to fully appreciate all that it has to offer. And yet, as my Nordic safari continues, for me there was possibly a bit too much "newness" going on compared to some of the other Scandinavian countries I have visited. With their recent economic boom, which has now collapsed, many of the buildings are very recent indeed. Much of Reykjavik is new and, along with many towns and villages in Iceland , it has a prefabricated feel to it. It is very clean, neat and modern, but fails to capitalize on natural building materials such as stone and wood. Corrugated iron and concrete prevail, admittedly to a high standard. Despite this I thoroughly recommend Iceland as a holiday destination.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - 250!

I paddled alone today. My usual partners made excuses like "I have to go to work" and "my car is broken - again". I planned to circumnavigate the Calf of Man but when I reached the Sound I was pleasantly surprised to find some fine surfing waves. There wasn't much flow in the race but there were some high energy, long wavelength rollers piling in from the west with a following wind. These hit the small amount of flow from the race head on and reared up to become tall, breaking surf waves. These were like the waves you get on a good surf beach, with the tidal race flow acting like the shallows of a beach pushing the wave energy upwards. They were great for surfing, effortless, and with no beach to spoil the effect. The above pictures don't really do it justice.
Of course we live in days of extreme political correctness and health and safety awareness. Soon it will be compulsory to wear a high visibility jacket the whole time, even around the house. Stairs will soon be banned and everyone, even children, will have to be police checked! So this blog posting comes with a disclaimer: never go into a tidal race alone! In fact never go in a tidal race at all - they are dangerous!
This is the 250th blog posting!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sea Kayaking Isle of Man - Iceland.

In my head there's a list of countries I'd really like to visit. I'm gradually working my way through them one by one. Iceland has always been on the list, but a trip to Reykjavik is usually postponed on grounds of cost. Certainly the £6 pint of beer or £3000.00 air fare would force most people to move the land of Bjork down the list a bit. But things have changed. The collapse of the global economy last year hit every country in the World to some extent, but Iceland fared particularly badly. Indeed the collapse of the Icelandic banks had repercussions far beyond the shores of Iceland, and I know several people who lost money in the Isle of Man branch of one of their larger banks. But the "market" has strange ways of sorting things out. Early last year £1 would buy about 120 Icelandic Krona. Now, for £1 we can get over 200 krona! This phenomenon does not automatically equate to vastly reduced prices, as Icelandic inflation has soared to 17%, and the prices of imported goods can do nothing but rise. Never the less your pound goes allot further and Iceland is rapidly becoming the trendy, nearby, different and not too pricey place to go. With air fares as low as £199 we're off next week to Reykjavik and to hopefully check out the paddling.
Speaking of kayaking the above pictures are from Saturday when Jess and I paddled out to Chicken Rock from Port St Mary.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Isle of Man Kayaking - Like old times.

We nearly didn't go. We hadn't been for ages. But in the end Ian, Jess and myself embarked on our once familiar Saturday morning paddle from Port Erin on the Isle of Man, down to the Sound tidal races. I'm glad we did. Spring tides and a force 4 almost against the flow lent for some challenging conditions. I say challenging because Ian and I both were forced to role! Only Jess came through unscathed. I think perhaps a lack of tidal race time may have left us rusty. Either way we had a great but exhausting time.