Archive for January 2007
There is a seal living in Poole Harbour. He has been there for years. Some say there is more than one, but everyone agrees that there is at least one. Despite having paddled through the harbour on many occasions, I had never seen him (her?) and two years back I determined to do so.
I guessed that he would most likely hang out in the southern part of the harbour, which is quiet and empty of human activity in the winter months. I chose to go look for him at spring tides, so that the high water would cover over the mud bank expanses and make it easy to approach all parts of the harbour. I launched from Wareham and paddled down the River Frome into the upper reaches of Poole Harbour. No sign of him. I passed between the Arne Peninsula and Long Island into the quietest corner of all…and right away there he was, directly in front of my sea kayak, happily swimming around and looking right at me.
My hunt was over, my prey cornered. I picked up my camera and aimed it at my quarry…
Paddlers who have launched or landed at Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset will know the Clavell Tower, a nineteenth century folly which overlooks the reef break below the cliffs. If you paddle inshore towards the tower, then you are too early and will find yourself getting surfed onto bedrock! The Bay entrance is a bit further on, through deeper water.
The tower has been in a sorry state since the 1930s when it was gutted by fire and left to rot. In recent years it was fenced off and graffiti-ed, teetering on the brink of collapsing into the sea through cliff erosion. A campaign was launched to save the tower, fronted by the novelist PD James whose novel ‘The Black Tower’ was centred on Kimmeridge. £900 000 was eventually conjured up from sources such as the National Lottery and work is underway to move the tower 25 metres backwards. This staggering sum will apparently be recouped (at least in part) by renting the finished building out.
Groundswell rumbling towards the south west has an unimpeded 6000 mile fetch.
I’ve never tried to land a sea kayak in big surf. Could be fun.
This Sherman Tank is to be found at Torcross, the launch point for the classic trip around the southernmost of Devon’s coast. It was placed here in 1984. It had previously spent forty years underwater.
In April 1944, a practice beach landing was carried out in Start Bay, prior to the D-Day landings. Due to errors in communication, poor planning and (unfortunately) negligence by the Royal Navy, German E-boats were able to slip into the exercise area and torpedo many of the landing vessels. More US soldiers died after clambering ashore when they were accidentally shelled by live ammunition. At least 946 US servicemen died that night, the bodies buried in mass graves on local farms. This disaster was quickly hushed up and was shrouded in total secrecy for decades after WWII.
The Sherman Tank was raised from the sea bed due to the prolonged efforts of local businessman Ken Small. He bought it from the US Government for $50 and placed it as a memorial to the forgotten US soldiers and sailors of Exercise Tiger.
Today we decided to see the MSC Napoli wreck for ourselves, and to try and get some idea of the local impact; rubbernecking with an environmental conscience. We paddled 16 miles from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis on a day which didn’t feel like January.
Well, it is certainly quite a sight. Apparently the process of removing the 3500 tonnes of oil from the ship is going well and the latest oil spills have been ‘stabilised’. We did indeed see ships further offshore doing something complicated with booms.
We attempted to paddle between the Napoli and the shore, having previously been told by Portland Coastguard control room that this would be acceptable, as long as we kept 500m clear of the wreck. However, a Coastguard launch intercepted us and politely escorted us back, as the ‘total exclusion zone’ actually extends right to the shore. We had to paddle a big loop right around the site, but this actually allowed us much better views of the Napoli.
Branscombe Beach was a hive of activity with earth movers and cranes creating a track to aid removal of the freight containers. There was rubbish everywhere for miles, the scavengers certainly trashed the place.
The policeman told us that he was having a very boring, but well-paid day. The only visitors now are, “…sightseers on the cliffs and morons who think that there will still be new motorbikes lying around”.
Amazingly, we hardly saw any oil on the water…this thin sheen is about as much as we encountered all day. There was no trace on the beaches and cliffs. Thank Heavens for offshore winds. We saw seabirds everywhere, seemingly healthy.
However, shortly after we’d convinced ourselves that the environmental damage was negligible, we paddled through the area which had been directly downwind when the 300 tonne oil leak had happened a week before. We soon met this chap and several of his friends, all in a similar predicament. He was flapping his wings pathetically, trying to fly. He couldn’t swim well, either. A distressing sight. He was picked up and taken away by a team from the local canoe club who were using open Canadians to search for oil-contaminated birds; good for them. A thousand birds have been taken for treatment already.
We paddled on for the next few hours, and grew to appreciate what a pleasantly scenic section of coast this is. I haven’t paddled it in a decade and had forgotten its charms.
This evening, we ate chips back in Sidmouth and looked across to the lights of the wreck site. This photo was taken in pitch dark from nearly four miles away with a 600mm zoom on a long exposure…
This photo shows a paddle around Hayling Island, about a year ago. It was freezing cold, and because we didn’t bother to double-check the tides beforehand, it was a very slow paddle! Halfway through the planned trip, we were running out of daylight, not equipped for night navigation and most crucially, not getting any warmer. We hopped ashore in the middle of some amusement arcades and curtailed our trip in a most undignified manner…by taxi.
We definitely weren’t in the south west. Or, were we? The ‘South West Sea Kayaking’ book that I am working on provisionally covers the English coast from the Needles to the head of the Bristol Channel, but will also definitely cover all of the splendid Isle of Wight coast. Truth be told, I can’t decide where in the south coast to begin defining the south west. Given that I am including the Isle of Wight, do I include the Solent Coast as well? Or just half of it? Or None? Answers on a postcard…
‘There’s a feeling I get, when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving.’
Another chapter draughted tonight. If you squint closely at the photo above, you can just about make out me, obscured behind a wave. Anyway, I was writing about this very spot, the Needles. They are to be found at the western point of the Isle of Wight and they are a ridge of knife-edge chalk stacks, with an impressive lighthouse perched right at the end.
The ‘Needles’ title seems to fit them perfectly, but that’s not actually why they got the name. There used to be an extra stack, bigger and better than the others…
No, I didn’t know either.
The sea birds contaminated by oil from the MSC Napoli number in the thousands. Dead dolphins have washed up on the beaches, including one at Swanage, a few miles from my house but a 70 mile swim from the wreck site.
We hope to see for ourselves and paddle near the wreck at the weekend, Coastguard embargos and spreading oil slicks permitting.
Apparently there are already enough local volunteers to handle the beach clearance and treat the contaminated birds. However, there is one thing that those wishing to assist can do.
The paddler in the picture is Mrs Rainsley. I quite like her, so I married her. She will be joining me for much of the paddling this year and helping with photography, proof-reading, etc. She also knows all manner of really useful things about ecology, geology and botany…no doubt she’ll be jotting down some contributions for the book on this theme.
The photo shows Mrs R paddling in the Isles of Scilly, back in 2003. This is a group of tiny low lying islands, located 28 miles off the western tip of Cornwall. Being plonked firmly out in the Gulf Stream, the Isles have a very mild climate and all manner of semi-tropical plants flourish there. The white sandy beaches are almost Caribbean in appearance, yet the islands are surrounded by serrated rocks and reefs which are much more in tune with the north Atlantic environment.
During our holiday in 2003, we paddled to all of the main islands and took detailed notes and numerous photos. As a result, we have no real need to go back there at all for the purposes of the book. Despite this, we have scheduled a week-long return trip to the Isles of Scilly for May/June this year. This is the only paddling that we have pre-planned out of our entire year’s itinerary.
Q. Why are we going back to the Isles of Scilly, when we don’t actually need to?
A. Because we are very dedicated and conscientious.
As the operation continues to pump the 3500 tonnes of oil from the MSC Napoli before it spills, the ecology of Devon and Dorset’s coast hangs in the balance. Even though the wreck remains intact for the time being, at least a hundred sea birds have already been found contaminated by oil and there are major concerns about the health of the reef on which the Napoli is grounded.
Meanwhile, on the beach…tacky people rummage around for free nappies and car parts, creating a huge discarded mess which is adding to the negative environmental impact. Police and Coastguard resources have had to be diverted from the salvage operation, to cope with these hordes of vultures.
Well, it’s nothing new. Lyme Bay has a long Historical tradition of this sort of behaviour. It all sounds quite romantic in theory – the poor local people benefitting from the blessings of the ocean – but the reality back in Ye Olde Days was just as sordid as today, if not more so…
‘In 1749 the Hope, a Dutch vessel, ran onto Chesil Beach. Soon the story spread that she was carrying £50,000 in gold. A mob of ten thousand people gathered on the beach to loot the remains, and finally had to be dispersed by the army. In 1795 a fleet carrying a regiment to the West Indies was wrecked on the beach opposite Fleet House, over three hundred bodies were subsequently buried in a mass grave on the beach. Most of them had been stripped naked by the local people. A hundred years later, on a freezing night in November 1872 the Royal Adelaide was wrecked at the Portland end of the beach, the cargo included brandy and rum. Some looters drank themselves insensible, and froze to death. Nearly as many people died of exposure as drowned in the shipwreck.’ (with thanks to this site)