I’ve just come away from an interview at a school on the Devon/ Cornwall border, having withdrawn from the field whilst apparently leading. In other words, I’ve just turned down a chance of promotion, combined with working several miles from Widemouth Bay. The location was great but the job turned out to not be what I was really looking for. Anyway, I actually quite like my current day job, so I’m happy to stick with it. Obviously this has nothing to do with sea kayaking, except to note that if I’d taken on this new job, the book might have suffered.
Scilly Isles tomorrow. All good.
This might be my last post for a while, as I have a lot on in the next few days, and next week I’ll be off in the Isles of Scilly.
How do you actually write a sea kayaking guide? Well, I have a system of sorts. 95% of the work is done on dry land at home. The above photo is from our trip to Scilly in 2003(?) but is a fair reflection of what my desk looks like these days. At home, I can correlate info from a large pile of hefty books, look up obscure nitty gritty facts on the internet and drink large amounts of tea. For instance, I’ve already written outlines of the four(ish) chapters on the Scilly Isles, with extensive tidal data, map references, coastguard details etc. etc. included. Now, I need to go paddle there, so that I can then write up the route description with it all fresh in my mind. Obviously I also need to take lots of photos, because no one ever actually reads books these days.
Boring technical details … my laptop joins me in the boat unless it’s just a day trip, safely (ahem) sealed in a Watershed dry bag. This allows me to type up chapters in pubs or even in the tent. My SLR camera lives in an quick-seal Ortlieb bag in my lap, and will almost certainly fall into the sea and die one day soon. I also carry a second waterproof camera for when the seas get lively. All of this entails dragging around a mass of batteries, memory card recharging units and other random logistical paraphenalia, not all of which relishes living in a kayak hatch.
Yesterday, the Isle of Wight got smaller.
Yesterday I fell and broke my foot.
Above is India Juliet, the Coastguard search and rescue helicopter serving the Solent area. It’s the helicopter which would have come and rescued me, had my accident happened anywhere more interesting than the stairs in my house.
So, this has not turned out to be the most productive weekend in terms of paddling, but whilst hobbling around on a stick I did spend some time pondering and then writing up tidal movements in the vicinity of Land’s End and Sennen Cove, out at the western end of Cornwall. I have no idea whether my final jottings make any sense, because I had this sort of source material to work with;
‘If S-bound from St Ives to Newlyn, aim to reach the Runnel Stone by HWD+5, ie with 2hrs of E-going tide in hand for the remaining 9M to Newlyn. To achieve this 20M passage, leave St Ives 5 hours earlier, ie at HWD and buck a foul tide for the first three hours, then use the S-going inshore current, keeping as close inshore as is prudent, only moving seaward to clear the Wra and the Brisons.’
It’s like a Sudoku puzzle, only with helicopter call-outs if you solve it incorrectly.
In 1641, the Merchant Royal reached the Western Approaches to the English Channel. Captain John Limbrey and his crew of 80 were nearing the end of a long voyage across the Atlantic from Mexico. Their cargo was reported as “£300,000 in silver, £100,000 in gold and as much again in jewel”, pirated from the Spanish and presumably previously liberated from the undeserving pagan natives of the New World.
However, the ship ran into heavy weather. The Merchant Royal sank in the vicinity of the Sicily Isles, its final resting place unknown.
This week, an American maritime salvage company called Odyssey Marine Exploration have announced that they have located and salvaged £253 million worth of coins from an unnamed wreck, including 17 tons of silver. They aren’t revealing the location of the wreck, but rumour says that it is located about 40 miles off Land’s End - which just happens to be pretty much where the Western Rocks of the Scilly Isles are.
It just so happens that we’re going to the Isles of Scilly next week. I think we’ll take our snorkels.
This extraordinarily tame puffin came home with us after our first visit to Lundy Island, and has resided in our living room ever since.
Lundy means Puffin in old Norse. There were 3000 pairs of Puffins on Lundy in the 1930′s. Due to foraging rats and also a decline in the sand eels upon which they feed, there has been a sharp decline in recent times. There are now less than ten breeding pairs left on the island.
Rising to 191 metres above sea level, Golden Cap has the distinction of being the highest point on the south coast of England. The picture below explains the name.
I’ll probably regret saying this, but I seem to have ‘done’ the Dorset chapter of the book. Likewise with the Isle of Wight chapter. I’ve also ‘done’ bits of the Devon coast.
That only leaves most of Devon, the entireity of Cornwall (which I’m led to believe is quite big) and the Isles of Scilly. Oh yes, and Somerset and Avon.
The photo above shows my friend Chris paddling in North Devon, back on the 5th of May. Since that day, every single day has been cold, wet and – biggest problem of all – very windy, here in the South West. Worse still, my weather lodestone Metcheck is predicting that this unsettled weather will continue for at least another week.
Here’s a message for whoever it is at Metcheck who is responsible for sorting out the weather …
Lay on some good weather for our Isles of Scilly trip at the end of the month. Or the fluffy kitten gets it.
Wikipedia knows absolutely everything. So much does Wikipedia know and know well, that it is now entirely redundant to attempt to impart any knowledge at all in your own words. After all, Wikipedia will always know it better and explain it better…
‘At 7:52pm on 12 January 1899, a 1,900 ton three-masted ship Forrest Hall, carrying thirteen crew and five apprentices, was in trouble off Porlock Wier on the North Somerset coast due to a severe gale which had been blowing all day. She had been under tow, but the tow rope had broken. She was dragging her anchor and had lost her steering gear. The ship’s destruction was a distinct probability. The alarm was raised for the Louisa (the Lynmouth lifeboat) to be launched to assist. However, due to the terrible weather, it was impossible for the lifeboat to be launched. Jack Crocombe, the coxswain of Louisa proposed to take the boat by road to Porlock’s sheltered harbour — 13 miles around the coast — and launch it from there.
The boat plus its carriage weighed about 10 tons, and transporting it would not be easy. 20 horses and 100 men started by hauling the boat up the 1 in 4 Countisbury Hill out of Lynmouth. 6 of the men were sent ahead with picks and shovels to widen the road. The highest point is 1423 feet above sea level. After crossing the 15 miles of wild Exmoor paths, the dangerous Porlock Hill had to be descended with horses and men pulling ropes to stall the descent; during this they had to demolish part of a garden wall and fell a large tree to make a way. The lifeboat eventually reached Porlock Weir at 6:30 A.M. and was finally launched.
Although cold, soaking wet, hungry and exhausted, the crew rowed for over an hour in treacherous seas to reach the stricken Forest Hall and rescue the thirteen men and five apprentices with no casualties; but four of the horses used died of exhaustion. The Forrest Hall was towed into Barry, Wales.’
The empty glass cabinet pictured below used to house a barometer which was built to commemorate this incredible rescue. However, the small white label explains that some git stole it, back in the 1980′s.
Today did not go well. Although paddling on our local waters of Swanage Bay, Heather and I found ourselves in big trouble. We encountered a two metre swell, Force 6 winds and driving rain, with the conditions deteriorating. We became separated and before we could regroup, a failed roll saw me swimming alongside my kayak.
The water was cold and I was glad I had worn my drysuit as the minutes passed and I drifted on the tide. Thankfully help eventually came in the form of the Swanage Lifeboat, looming and lurching huge in the swell above me. A lifeboatman jumped in and assisted me, whilst the lifeboat manoeuvred into position. Shivering, I was swum into a harness and then – still lying down – carefully raised aboard to the safety of the deck.
The crew then tried to extract my kayak, but with the weather worsening, it was decided that it was too heavy and unwieldy to waste time and take unnecessary risks over. It was abandoned to be retrieved by the inshore lifeboat, a smaller RIB.
A second inshore lifeboat came alongside; it had located and rescued Heather from the water. She joined us on deck. It was a great relief to both be safe and heading for home.
This exercise was an opportunity for Swanage Lifeboat to practice their search and rescue routines, and also to learn more about kayakers and kayaks. Thanks to John Gilmour for organising the exercise and inviting us along.
If you are as impressed as we were by the skill, dedication and bravery of the RNLI‘s volunteers, then please consider contributing.
I nearly lost my breakfast.
There are two ways to get your kayak to the Isles of Scilly. I’ve tried them both. One way is to paddle there, a biggish but not extreme open crossing. The other way is to take the ferry. The Scillonian III makes the crossing from Penzance most days of the week. It’s popularly known as the ‘Vomit Comet’ on account of the somewhat lively seas it often ploughes through. To get your kayak onto the Scillonian, you load it onto a wobbly wooden pallet which is then craned into a worryingly small hold opening on the deck.
In two weeks’ time, we are going back to the Isles of Scilly. Hooray! However, as we have no way of knowing whether the weather conditions (or our energy levels) will suit a paddle crossing either there or back, we’ve had to book tickets for the ferry. Unfortunately the Scillonian option doesn’t come cheap. According to the ferry company’s bumf, two adults and two kayaks return costs the best part of £300(!). So, this afternoon I winced in real pain as I read my card details down the phone to the nice lady at the booking office. However, the final cost actually came to about half that, for reasons we can’t divine. I checked again and the price stayed the same … fingers crossed that no mistake has been made.
Anyway … did I mention that we are going back to the Isles of Scilly, in two weeks’ time? Hooray!